Scary tales of bad communication in the workplace
Halloween is the spookiest time of year. Witches and ghosts gather in the streets, jack-o’-lanterns grin knowingly, and examples of bad communication in the workplace rise from the grave (the scariest of all!).
Examples of bad communication in the workplace can be instructive too though, and learning from internal comms mistakes can ensure your messages don’t turn into a massacre. So, grab your pumpkin spice, sit back and read our scary tales of the employee experience gone wrong. Guaranteed to keep internal comms professionals up at night….
Is bad communication lurking in your organization?
Many large organizations are great communicators. Due to their dispersed employees and need to attract top talent, global enterprises often have a firm handle on internal messaging and employee experience. Whether introducing a new policy, fresh faces within the senior leadership team, or handling fluctuations in share prices, employee communications are clear and timely.
Even at the largest and most well-resourced companies though, bad communication can and does happen. Despite their size, budget, or stature, even well-known brands occasionally get it wrong and make public internal comms mistakes. As you’ll find out below, things can spiral out of control, which is why it’s necessary to learn from high-profile errors.
When an engineer at a well-known search engine wrote an offensive internal memo that was leaked, the organization had to go into overdrive to try and calm the external storm.
The engineer in question sent the memo to HR and posted it on an internal forum for other employees to see. At least seven co-workers tweeted about it from their personal accounts, publicly naming the company and calling out the contents.
A popular online tech blog picked up the tweets and the contents quickly went viral. Social media erupted in protest, defiant at the sexism on display and citing it as a reason for the gender unbalances within the tech industry.
Concerningly, further private internal messages were leaked to the media as the days went on. The tech company quickly distanced itself from the comments and was left attempting damage control. None of this drama emanated from the Internal Communications team, so it could not have been anticipated but the episode indicates the power of peer-to-peer communications and internal communications platforms in the digital workplace. Staying alert to examples of bad practice and bad communication shouldn’t just be about the emails sent by the IC team.
What can be learned from this communication mistake?
🎃 Regularly survey staff to uncover any issues festering within the workforce.
🎃 Encourage a culture of recognition and acknowledgment to ensure employees appreciate each other and their different roles.
🎃 Uphold an internal culture of respect, where people do not fit into boxes, but each has intrinsic value within the organization’s success.
Post-pandemic, the CEO of this large tech company sent an internal memo stating an immediate change to its remote working policy. Following this announcement, employees hastily returned to the office.
However, the workforce had nearly doubled since the start of 2020 and once everyone arrived at the office it became clear there weren’t enough desks to accommodate them all. The car park became congested as people fought for space. The in-office Wi-Fi struggled under the massive spike in demand.
Quite simply, the company wasn’t prepared and the change communications failed. A phased return would have been much smoother, but the panic caused by the CEO’s email caused chaos. Investor confidence plummeted, and this example of bad communication planning left employees even more determined to work from home.What can be learned from this communication mistake?
🎃 Make sure your leadership team understands the importance of unified, strategic internal comms.
🎃 Manage any significant changes to everyday work, such as a return to office-based work, with multiple messages and supportive documentation. Answer any questions employees may have, such as managing a full-capacity office.
🎃 Remember to treat your employees respectfully, particularly when communicating sensitive issues subject to internal backlash.
This online publication was infamous for breaking newsworthy stories. But what happened when the tables were turned and it ended up struggling with a leak?
In 2013, an unknown source posted thousands of confidential internal messages online. They contained valuable and sensitive data, financial information, and confidential client conversations. After a thorough investigation, the leak was determined to be accidental. However, it was still damaging to the publication’s reputation. Nearly ten years later, the aftereffects of this leak are still remembered, despite the vast improvement in online privacy and data protection laws.
This publication was lucky — a smaller operation could have been out of business in the aftermath of such an event.
What can be learned from this mistake?
🎃 Data protection and 2FA can help protect any sensitive information.
🎃 Ensure that teams are happy, fully trained, and up to date with crisis communication procedures.
🎃 Data leaks, particularly within some sectors such as finance, are risky and carry heavy penalties if the organization is found to be at fault. Keep open lines of communication with your teams and ensure that any problems are flagged immediately through the correct operating channels.
We hope these three very different horror stories highlight the dangers of not using a considered and multifaceted internal communications strategy.
For enterprise-level organizations with brand recognition especially, reducing the likelihood of leaks, bad communication, and public censure begins with learning from the best of worst practices of all our peers.