Policing social media leads to trial by media for CBA

Codes of employee conduct are usually dull, and it is rare to meet a CEO or CFO who is familiar with their detail. Most employees only ever notice the existence of the document when they join as a new-hire, and go through an induction process.

So if they are such pointless documents, why do organisations need them?

To put it bluntly, these policy documents are all about corporate risk management. If you have them in place, then there are clear rules that can be used as part of a performance management process. Without up-to-date employment policies, when an employee behaves inappropriately, your first port of call will need to be your legal team – rather than HR.

Now just because the policies are part of risk management, doesn’t mean you should just rely on your lawyers to draft them. Overly legalistic policies can be difficult to understand, and in some cases counter-productive.

The Commonwealth Bank recently found out the hard way, when they updated their employee policy governing the use of social media.

Now while the CBA HR team obviously thought they were sensibly reducing their risk by issuing the policy, they obviously miscalculated the ease with which the Finance Sector Union was able to use the policy against them. Rather conveniently for the FSU, major newspapers and online publications ran the story prominently. CBA chose to duck for cover, with none of their senior executives being quoted by journalists covering the story.

This of course led to significant amounts of damaging press, including “Bank threatens staff with sack over social media” in the Australian, and “Commonwealth’s snitch policy alarming” in the Herald Sun.

Setting aside the rather unfortunate PR tactics CBA decided to follow, here are some lessons which I think any Australian leader should be taking away from this experience.

  • employee policies should be understandable
  • policies should reflect/define the actual culture of the organisation
  • update policies every 2 years
  • legal should have input – not final say
  • policies should be seen to cover everyone – including the CEO and senior executives
  • create clear examples of appropriate behaviour, lead from the front
  • be reasonable

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