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  • Mark Shaw

Managing Social Media Problems

There is no doubt Social Media is here to stay or that it affects workplace issues.

As witnessed in the recent case in the UK where a 57-year-old lawyer was accused of “unacceptable and misogynistic behaviour” after he sent a barrister half his age a LinkedIn message complimenting her on her “stunning picture” (which was apparently a professionally taken head-and-shoulders portrait).  See http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/11852887/Lawyer-accused-of-sexism-after-complimenting-barrister-on-stunning-LinkedIn-picture.html


You may recall, the younger female barrister responded using Twitter to paste both the original Linked In message she received and her reply.


As I understand the sequence of events, the older, male lawyer never had an opportunity to respond and later apologised saying “Most people post pretty unprofessional pictures on Linked in, my comment was aimed at the professional quality of the presentation on linked in which was unfortunately misinterpreted.” 


The question I raise is not whether the message was inappropriate, unacceptable and/or misogynistic behaviour.  It may have been; it may not have been; I certainly have not seen sufficient details to make such a judgement. 

The question I raise is how would you handle a similar situation if it happened in your workplace?  Would you consider it a:

  • Performance management issue?

  • Bullying issue?

  • Harassment issue?

  • Discipline Issue?

  • Discrimination Issue

  • 2%-er issue?

In the Australian Industrial Relations system, a key consideration in such a case is not what policy you select but rather whether “reasonable management action was taken in a reasonable way” to manage the situation.


The problem with selecting one of the first five options is you might be deemed to have chosen the wrong one, and my experience indicates that would almost certainly be deemed “not reasonable”.  


Based on my 20 years’ experience, I’d recommend you select the sixth option because:

This type of situation only occurs infrequently or rarely (i.e 2% of the time).

If you focus on the management problem that the behavior caused and attempt to resolve that problem, my experience says it will be deemed “reasonable management action was taken in a reasonable way”.


As I have argued before, if things only happen infrequently, having over-the-top regulation to manage them is a waste of time, effort and resources that does more harm than good.  Keep it simple is what has worked for me over the past 20 years.

As always, the choice is yours; over reaction and a complex solution or simplicity and defendable reasonable management action.  What will you do when confronted with something similar?


Ps.  Happy to share our approach with anyone who is interested.

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