The old adage was, “Do something good for someone and they’ll tell 10 people. Do something bad to someone and they’ll tell a 100 people.”  

The good old days meant you could be human and mess up and a whole lot less people would know. Those days are gone! Today when you mess up there’s a potential worldwide audience that can have full access to your falling on your face.  

Don’t believe me? How many scandals and falls from grace have you learned about in the news and in social media over the last few years?  

I know for a fact that you don’t have to be a news junky or, worse yet, a fan of shows like TMZ (and the many other copy-cat type shows) to see the fallout from lives shattered by being put on display just like so many viral cat videos through forwarded emails, social networking sites and more. Many of the smartest people have been ensnared in the web. Yes, the web of lies, but also the worldwide Web.  

We’re not perfect. But since there is no privacy anymore, we’re not allowed to fall down, dust ourselves off and get up as easily as we once did. That’s because  anyone and everyone has a cell phone at the ready to record videos that with just a few clicks can be posted to YouTube or Facebook.  

It can be a product of being an innocent thing to do with no thought to the long-term ramifications. For the media though, it can be to feed their audiences secret desire to see the rich and famous have their day of reckoning. It’s shameful but very human. I know you’re not like that, so when you go to the checkout counter at the supermarket you don’t glance over the screaming headlines…do you?  

Sad truth is we tend to be okay with people who have ascended to a position of power, wealth and popularity being torn down. Actors, athletes, politicians and rich people in general being dragged through the mud and publicly humiliated or even ruined is somewhat satisfying to us mere mortals. It has become a nice replacement for the wearing of the red letter “A”, the stockade and public flogging in the square of yesteryear.  

All that was needed to feed the frenzy are the not-so-secret emails and texts that have left a solid indelible trail for those intent on getting to the bottom of things if they so desire or for those who wish to get caught to make it a reality. The bigger question and reality check for business owners is what do we choose to legislate and what do we let pass and how do we do it?

What's the answer

The answer is very complicated. What two consenting adults do behind closed doors used to be off limits and, in my opinion, should stay that way. It also used to be that what people did about inter-personal relationships in an office setting that didn’t affect their work was rarely trotted out for public display let alone disciplined. After all, this is America and there are inalienable rights.  

But as recent cases in the media have shown, there are ramifications for immense misbehavior and even incredibly bad taste that ends up reflecting badly not just on the employee but on the company itself. And once it’s egregious enough and it’s fanned the ire of the public it can force the hand of a business owner.  

I’m not a fan of trying to legislate too much personal behavior unless it directly affects the business, which is why I advocate there be some clear boundaries. But, most of what I’ve preached for years was related to behavior at work or behavior when not at work that could affect job performance. Things like having a drug and alcohol policy that is ongoing is a good example of both at work and not-at-work behavior.  

The scary thing today is that people can do such disrespectful or outrageously bad things that challenge the social norms that it can cause customer alienation which results in turmoil at your company. No one can escape the pressure from unrelenting out of control bad publicity. Trying to deal with it after the incident has happened may leave you powerless, which is bad for all. As a good leader you have failed to keep your own people on a good path for their own sake.  

If you agree that this is better addressed before there is an issue than trying to deal with it after an incident, you need to sit with a human resources company or labor lawyer now. You will need to brainstorm with them about the various types of behavior scenarios that can occur and what role if any social media can have in applying discipline for objective bad behavior that have ramifications.  

If you really want to get ahead of the curve on this, you will be wise to work with your trusted advisors on what role social media and bad behavior have when it comes to your recruiting, hiring and retaining process.  


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