Both rewards and punishments can flow to those who use the Internet, where anything you say becomes a permanent record of who you are. Sometimes that is wonderful, if a post reveals an admirable quality that earns appreciation and praise. Sometimes Internet sharing is hazardous, because a careless comment can cost you your job.
A recent article about a Facebook post shows how treating a social network like a private personal diary can rebound with negative employment consequences.
“I start my new job today, but I absolutely hate working at daycares.”
Then she took it one step further:
“LOL, it’s all good, I just really hate being around a lot of kids.”
Unfortunately, someone forwarded her dangerously thoughtless words to the daycare. Needless to say, her job offer was withdrawn before she could even start work. Her quick apologies (“I have a child, myself! “I don’t hate children. I have my own…I love her.”) were futile. Too rash, too little, too late.
Wake up, people! The Web is a globally linked decentralized communications system with a perfect memory. When something is said out loud, it can be missed or quickly forgotten. But once a casual comment is keyed into the ether, it is recorded, stored and launched on multiple trajectories to land anywhere where it can be seen by everyone eternally thereafter. An Internet comment is like a shotgun blast: it might ricochet all over the place and hit unintended targets. And it can bounce around forever. Unless you are one of those modern media “personalities” known for being notorious, repeated broadcasts of your words may not operate to your advantage.
Normal people can’t behave like media darlings. Even the blunders of the rich and famous whose foibles fill our “news” brings them more fortune. There seems to be an endless parade of apparently talentless characters regularly featured in the electronic and pulp publications. Frequently known by one-word names, the more they misbehave, the more advertisers flock to enrich them. But they are statistical outliers, a mere handful in a world filled with hard-working people whose incomes depend on quiet productivity rather than empty entertainment. When regular folks attract the wrong kind of attention, the compensation repercussions can be catastrophic.
People often forget that there is another side to the total rewards function beyond its role as a cornucopia from which flows an endless stream of goodies. HR people also have the ability to withhold positive awards and to invoke negative responses: like cutting increases or terminating employment. Organizations that pay workers to make a product or supply a service tend to avoid applicants who could make them look bad. Firms also take preventive measures to discourage employees from biting the hand that feeds them. Certain specific deterrents are illegal, but companies are generally permitted to enforce most policies designed to avert otherwise unprotected activities they they choose to forbid. You can get in trouble at work for what you do at play.
Unless you are being paid to make reckless comments and attract attention, take care with what you say online. The WorldWideWeb is an immense public bulletin board where every entry is recorded and backed up for historical reference. Although the words you share in the Internet could last forever, you may not survive their short-term effect.
As HR professionals, we have a lot to say about organizational rewards and behavioral consequences. Therefore, we should share this cautionary advice with youngsters less aware than we are of the lifetime consequences of impulsive online actions. Today’s rash post could produce undesirable results that forever end your career dreams for tomorrow. Forewarned is forearmed.
Start with your responses here!
E. James (Jim) Brennan was Senior Associate of ERI Economic Research Institute, the premier publisher of interactive pay and living-cost surveys. After over 40 years in HR corporate and consulting roles throughout the U.S. and Canada, he’s pretty much been there done that (articles, books, speeches, seminars, radio/TV, advisory posts, in-trial expert witness stuff, etc.), serves on the Advisory Board of the Compensation and Benefits Review and will express his opinion on almost anything.
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