Employee Engagement is a Two-Way Tweet

I glimpsed a headline today that read something like “Many companies wish social media would just go away.”

I bet.  I don’t think the folks at the regional wrap and smoothie chain, Boloco, would be among these companies, except for one day earlier this week when an employee tweeted that her job “sucks” only to be publicly fired a short while later — via Twitter — by CEO John Pepper.

Another Twitter learning moment.  Think before you tweet.  Understand the potential ramifications to your job and your reputation.  And if you screw up, move quickly to repair any damage.

Subsequent to his faux pas, Pepper did all the right things.  He apologized to the employee he fired, reinstated her, said she wouldn’t even be reprimanded and that he’d try “to help her find more things to enjoy” at Boloco.

So is all well at Boloco these days for Pepper and his employees?  Time will tell.  But since we move at Twitter speed, the brouhaha over the specific incident has been sufficiently bulldozed to the Twitter archives.

With that said, there’s a lot companies should learn from incidents like this one and I’m not talking about social media policies and having a quick Twitter finger.  I am talking about employee engagement and employees as brand ambassadors.

My colleague Aimee Charest wrote about employee ambassadors and leadership earlier this week.  Her key point is that employee empowerment and engagement is developed through better employee communications by leaders who treat staff as true stakeholders — and not order takers.

It’s hard to admit some days, but the employment market has been turned on its head.  Unemployment remains at a lifetime high in many parts of the country, and at the same time employers are pulling their hair out about the lack of skilled employees for many of the job openings that do exist.

A study just released by Ranstad, the staffing and human resources services company, predicts that 2012 will be another tough year for the employment market.  While Ranstad officials say more and more jobs will become available as the economy continues its recovery, the firm also reports that 76% of employees don’t think they’ll receive a promotion and at the same time many see their benefits and pay being slashed.

The challenges of keeping employees engaged — whether they are rolling burritos, selling insurance or building websites — is tough work but never more important.  “Companies want to successfully engage as many employees as possible to maximize productivity, and they need to particularly focus on those workers who are most engaged and, thus, the most valuable,” said Joanie Ruge, SVP and chief employment analyst for Ranstad U.S.

It’s that time of year again, when employees and employers alike take stock of the year that is quickly closing and build plans and set expectations for the year ahead.

How will leaders alter their employee communications programs so that staff is inspired to do great work and to tweet about the positive difference they are making?  The tweet from @AllHailMaryJane may turn out to be an isolated incident.  Employees also should try to understand that making any company a great place to work is a two-way street — employees and employer making an effort to do so.  On the other hand, any incident like this is a great opportunity for senior management to take the pulse of their employees at-large — the engaged and the disengaged.

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