Departing contractor deletes Twitter account of POTUS, spurs exit retaliation fears among nation’s employers
For Twitter’s customer service representatives, public relations managers and executives, 11 minutes last Thursday evening became a living nightmare when President Donald Trump’s personal account was suddenly and mysteriously disabled. The world wanted to know what happened, and no one seemed to have answers, according to detailed New York Times accounts. An investigation uncovered that the cause was not an accident, but rather an exiting Twitter contractor who had disabled the president’s account.
The Times described a lack of safeguards at the social media giant as part of the problem that led to the mess:
At Twitter, employees have long expressed concern about the widely available nature of internal tools for handling customer accounts. Disabling an account is typically an easy two- or three-step process, according to current and former Twitter employees. Certain teams at the company — including trust and safety, and operations — have access to all accounts including the highest levels.
All it took in this instance, it seems, was one disgruntled person at Twitter to act out and cause an epic public relations headache for the company.
“The truth is, this kind of thing happens all the time. Once, a long time ago, I had a client who had an HR person quit, but not before she destroyed all the employee files. Put them through a shredder! This was before the days of electronic files for everything,” recalls myHR Partner President Tina Hamilton, PHR. “You have to wonder what would make a person do something like that, and what kind of warning signs might have been missed.”
Hamilton says that, although you cannot always predict how people will behave, there are things that companies can do to reduce the chances of an exiting employee committing disruptive acts of retaliation.
Tip #1: Do your best not to tick off your employees to the point where they want to retaliate.
Terminations are not fun. Everybody hates them. Once they are done, everyone would really just prefer to move on to better things, right? That’s not always easy when exiting employees do things like insult your clients, shred your files, or, say, delete the president of the United States’ personal Twitter account. What on earth would lead a person to do such things is best pondered before a termination, not after.
No matter how frustrated you may be at work or with your employees, it is never advised to offend, belittle or embarrass them. Even if you feel justified in losing your cool or arguing, the risks are not worth it. The same goes for policies or behaviors that can be perceived as disrespectful or mean-spirited by your workforce. It’s not just a matter of what you want to communicate to them, it’s also a matter of how that message is received.
“Resentment can build and come out in strange ways, especially when someone is leaving your company and no longer thinks they have anything to lose by acting out” says Hamilton. “Whether they are terminated or leave on their own, a really disgruntled exiting employee can act out.” While there will always be some people who will retaliate regardless of the workplace environment, most employees are pragmatic and reasonable when treated respectfully by an even-keeled management team.
“Foster positive employee relations and communications, and be receptive to what your workforce has to tell you,“ says Hamilton. “Respect is a two-way street – even when you need to let someone go.”
Tip #2: Be careful about who you give permissions for sensitive documents and security systems to.
There are some steps you can take to safeguard against retaliation. You should always be careful of who you give passwords and permissions to for documentation and sensitive materials. You would need a crystal ball to accurately determine who might “go rogue” in every case, but you can add an extra layer of precautions to keep your information and systems safe long before someone is fired, gives their notice or becomes disgruntled. This can be especially important if you think a certain employee is becoming unstable or irrational. Update passwords and clearances regularly and review who really needs to have access to what in order to do their jobs.
Tip #3: Prior to terminating an employee, prepare in advance to have trusted staffers change security codes, passwords, etc.—immediately.
Have this happen while the exiting employee is being terminated. Yes, we mean it. It takes only seconds for a disgruntled person to delete, save, share or otherwise sabotage information your company has in databases, posted online, or stored on a company server or the cloud.
“Beyond the password changing, and depending upon the level of retaliation risk a person presents, it might not be a bad idea to have the employee’s desk packed while they are being told they are being terminated,” says Hamilton. “If you don’t have time to do that, but need them to leave the workplace immediately, tell the employee you will pack their things and send them Fedex the next day.” Escort them to get any must-have personal items, if need be. The point is to not let them have time alone with office computers, phones, files or other company property.
Of course, most terminated or exiting employees don’t resort to retaliation, so you must always use your best judgment when these situations arise. You don’t want to make someone who wasn’t particularly resentful before feel insulted by treating them like a criminal when they are terminated, either. Follow a reasonable procedure, keeping in mind the history and observed temperament of the person involved.
Terminations, voluntary and involuntary, need proper handling
Cultivating a positive and productive workplace, understanding the motives and warning signs of disgruntled employees and having procedures in place for when terminations occur are all important ways to prevent exiting employees from causing chaos as they leave. And they are all things myHR Partner can help you with to improve employee relations and job satisfaction. Contact us today to find out more about myHR DirectLink and our other workforce strengthening services.