Give us Dirty Laundry! — Don Henley, "Dirty Laundry"

The Eagles singer may have been talking about the media over 25 years ago when he released courtesy morgue filehis hit single, "Dirty Laundry", but the lyrics and message could be applied just as easily today to online message boards. 

They have all the same criteria that Henley alluded to in the song: Innuendo, Gossip, and even Mean-Spiritedness. 

Indeed, a series of posts in the New York Times’ Shifting Careers blog over the last week or two discusses the consequences of the online postings for the workplace and suggests that restrictive covenants on employees (like non-disclosure agreements) may be one way to cut down on such postings.

But people being people, there will always be those who will complain anonymous online.  What to do about it? In some cases, ignoring it may be the best solution.  But if the posts reveal confidential information or make false or disparaging remarks, particularly about the ethics or legality of a business decision, legal action may be needed.

Here’s the truth though about online message boards: while some have popped up, they have also been all over the place. There really hasn’t been any key websites that have taken root with such information. (Yes, I know people get worked up on the Yahoo! Finance Boards, but it’s not as widespread as you might think.)

Until, perhaps, now. A new website, launched in beta mode last month, promises to take employee grievances (and praises) to a whole new level.

It is called Glassdoor.com and its founders have impressive and well-known resumes from websites such as Hotwire and Zillow

What is it? In their own words:

Glassdoor.com is a career and workplace community where anyone can find and anonymously share real-time reviews, ratings and salary details about specific jobs for specific employers — all for free. What sets us apart is that all our information comes from the people who know these companies best — employees. In the spirit of community, we ask our users to share with each other. That is, before you can access all of the information shared by others in the Glassdoor community, we first ask that you post an anonymous review or salary of your own. By working together to offer an inside look at companies, we can open access and bring greater transparency to information in one of the most important parts of our lives — our work.

What types of information does the website already have online?  Detailed company reviews;
Employee ratings on workplace factors and leadership; Real-time salary/compensation details by title and company.

For companies, this website ought to be a wake-up call.   It was only a matter of time before someone created the tools to allow employees to communicate with each other and the outside world in a seamless fashion.  And wishing it away will not change anything — the Internet is obviously here to stay.

The only path now for companies is how to address this issue.  Because companies will address these issues in multiple ways, seeking some guidance on how others have handled this issue and seeking sensible solutions may be a good start. But central to all of this is that companies must understand what is already out there — in terms of technology  and in terms of what is written about their company.

And a peek at Glassdoor.com may not hurt either.

The blog has been unusually quiet the last 36 hours or so, though it’s not for lack of effort. I had a blog posting I was incredibly proud of with great links, documents, and research.  A thing of beauty.  I was already daydreaming of the other blogs that would seek it out (WSJ Law Blog or Above The Law here we come!).

So why are you reading this entry instead? Because of the potential for disrupting a lawfirm connection or two.  In essence, after drafting the entry, I decided that it was better to not publish it and preserve relationships that the firm has with clients and customers than risk jeopardizing the relationship (even though I have nothing to do with that relationship).  In essence, despite a right to publish what I want, I decided that the better judgment is to not publish it.  I’m not happy with my decision, but I know its the "right" decision in this circumstance. 

But employers undoubtedly have employees with their own blogs of a far more personal nature. Will those employees use discretion in their posts? In other words, even when they do not post about the company that they work at, will they decide to NOT blog about an employer’s competitors or customers?  Do they even THINK about the effect their blog will have on their employer?

The answer to these questions may be hard to determine but a well-defined blogging policy at the company can at least provide a head start on the answers.  If your company does not have one, its time to implement a simple straightforward one.  Blogging (or even microblogging) is not going anywhere.

So what should a policy state? It depends on the company. Financial services industry companies will have particular worries with insider trading rules, etc. A small retail store will have different concerns.  A technology company still other concerns.  But the framework can start (but not end) with the following. 

  1. Employees can be instructed that they should not comment or use any confidential information about the company or discuss internal matters.  (Whether the employee should be allowed to identify the employer is a business decision for the company.) 
  2. Employees should be told that blogs should be done during non-working  hours and not using Company resources, unless authorized by the company.
  3. Employees should be told that the blog should have appropriate disclaimers that indicate that all views on the blog are those of the individual and have not been reviewed or approved by the Bank.
  4. Employees should be told that the blog should not imply sponsorship, endorsement or support by the company, nor should the blog use any logos or trademarks of the company.
  5. Employees should be instructed that the blogs should not be libelous or defamatory, and that the blogs should avoid being written in a way in which it could be construed as harassing or discriminatory on the basis of a protected category. 

Of course, if the company is tech-savvy, like Google, it may want to encourage employee blogs. In that case, there are some other great resources for establishing those types of corporate blogging policies. 

My colleague, Charles Wilson, had another great piece of wisdom that shows that a policy is but one aspect of an overall approach for a company :

Make sure to establish an open conduit for discussion regarding wages, discrimination and sexual harassment. Forcing your employees to air your company’s dirty laundry on the Internet is a bad idea especially when an equally user-friendly channel is available that won’t have the whole world watching.

In short, a company should set a policy and create an atmosphere that gives employees the proper context to using blogs.  Without such parameters, employees are left in no man’s land, left to wonder if what they are doing is acceptable or not.