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    Comfortable Being Scared

    Last night on the HR Happy Hour show we talked about social media in the workplace, why organizations should have social media and social networking policies in place to guide employee usage (although quite a few listeners argued that specific social media policies are unnecessary), and some of the concerns and outright fears that many leaders and HR professionals seem to possess when these topics are discussed. After all, many of the large mainstream HR associations have trotted out a stream of speakers and 'experts' pitching at best caution and restraint, and at worst outright bans supported by a few anecdotes about miscreant employees gone wild. Flickr - Scr47chy

    Rather than contribute yet another (unnecessary) piece attempting to refute item by item the typical laundry list of 'bad' outcomes (time wasting, loss of productivity, exposure of company secrets) that may arise from the increased use of social networking in the workplace by employees, I wanted to touch upon one of the observations made on the show by our guest Eric Meyer.  During the conversation about the use of 'scare tactics' by some legal experts, Eric noted that many HR professionals are 'comfortable being scared', in other words hinting that rather than dispassionately evaluating the potential benefits of these tools and technologies, many in HR are happy to use the horror stories to keep them safely entrenched in their personal comfort zones of uninformed bliss.

    Mulling over this some more last night I don't think it is all that surprising considering how popular and often successful 'going negative' is in many other aspects of our culture.  Think about our interactions with our kids, 99% of political advertising, the stories on the local TV news, and even the relentless focus on the 'bad' or negative in the coverage of the World Cup. How much more emphasis has been placed on shoddy officiating, annoying vuvuzelas, and dysfunctional team dynamics than on any of the positive aspects of the competition? 

    Why are we so drawn to the negative? 

    Why do we try to avoid, mitigate, reduce, manage and every possible other thing except embrace risk?

    Why are so many of us 'comfortable being scared?'




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    Reader Comments (7)

    Because as a society -- God, as a cognizant species -- we don't facilitate and encourage personal responsibility. It's easier to cave and go negative because everybody's doin' it.

    Can you imagine if everyone became responsible? Mercy.

    July 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKevin W. Grossman

    Steve - you hit on a very important psychological issue: we fear loss more than we value gain. In this instance, adopting new ideas means we have to let go of our old ways of doing things. Until we can definitively show the gain as much, much better than the potential loss it will be an uphill battle.

    The best thing we can do is fight psychology with psychology - when we advertise and show that enough folks are already adopting these new tools then the "consensus" trigger comes into play and we want to be like everyone else. Keep showing the number of people who are adopting and everyone will come around.

    July 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Hebert

    @Kevin - Amen brother.

    @Paul - That is a great point, and I should have touched on that in the piece. I agree that once 'the other guys' are doing it, it will seem more acceptable and even necessary to the masses.

    July 2, 2010 | Registered CommenterSteve

    I don't think that we are comfortable being scared. I think we are uncomfortable being scared and therefore we attempt to reduce the risk to zero.

    Regarding HR and social media ---
    Let's not forget one of HR's major role in the company is Risk Management. If HR did not provide senior management with an honest look at the risks, they would not be doing their job. If productivity dropped measurably, if mistakes increased due to fractured concentration, if customers were lost or if litigation resulted due to social networking and HR didn't warn Senior Management that it was a possibility then they are partly to blame.

    BUT --- HR also needs to provide senior management with not just the risks, but also the opportunities and ways to mitigate the risks.

    HR is not the legal department it is a business department and as such it needs to articulate both sides of the equation. It needs to be able to outline to Senior Management the pros, the cons, the risks, the opportunities and the possibilities. Senior Management can then decide how much risk they are willing to take based on the potential gain.

    Getting comfortable with fear may actually benefit HR so they can articulate the potential risks but also recognize the opportunities that may (or may not) be worth the risks.

    I'm going to throw caution to the wind and say we aren't scared, we just don't care.

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