Friday, October 26, 2012

The Weave: Who Says It's A Grave State Of Affairs ??

I think I must be on new meds. For the second time in a row, I have only pleasant things to say!

Much of the latest feedback from consumers and workers on the purported Four Goals of
the 2020 Vision of Weaver Street Market Co-operative dealt with a desire to see the co-op help customers to be more discerning about buying local and organic by providing more info at the point of sale.

Lo and behold, we will be producing new tags in the immediate future which will give just that information. Thank you everyone in Merchandising and Marketing!

Next up, the Mayor of Carrboro just recently addressed a gathering somewhere in the Midwest (ok, I pay as much attention as I can!) on the subject of healthy living helping economic performance.

Well, I was thinking to myself, is that the job of government to impose or employers and the like to encourage? Lo and behold, the WSM Human Resources Department announce they will shortly be starting new Health and Wellness Programs to support we employees in understanding and implementing a more healthy lifestyle.

Leave aside that the fact that this may all be wasted on so-what's-wrong-with-a-tub-of-chocolate-ice-cream-at-midnight? Geoff. The point is the thought is right. Thank you Human Resources.

As to the picture accompanying all this good news. Since I wasn't complaining, I thought I'd just have some fun. So, it's basically Dr. Who at Halloween - with a few extras thrown in ...

Thursday, October 11, 2012

WSM Social Media Policy - Corporate Next Steps

Look, there are some who say that all I ever do with Weaver Street Market Co-operative is whine about its corporate office management team. Not today!

I think that their response to employee feedback on the proposed new Social Media Policy is actually quite thoughtful. Not all that I would have hoped for. But definitely they took the time to accommodate some of our concerns.

I met with both the General Manager (Ruffin) and the Human Resources Manager (Deborah), and my primary concern was that the proposed Policy as it stood pretty much forbade any criticism of WSM on social media at all. With immediate imposition of discipline if it happened.

A lot of folks - not just me - said in the employee feedback, you just can't do that. First Amendment. Freedom of Speech. I'm off the clock. I want my Mummy.

I suggested that they ease up a little on the Straight To Discipline, Don't Pass Go approach. And instead, adopt a somewhat more friendly, pat on the shoulder, be respectful, guideline approach.

They have done that. With some caveats.

There is still mention of discipline. Not sure one can avoid that, for reasons I come to in a minute. And they still talk about 'adverse effect' and 'disparaging' the co-op, without saying who decides what constitutes both.

Ok. I get from my conversations, especially with the General Manager, that they are not trying (per se) to stop critical posting about the co-op and its policy.

As Ruffin charmingly put it to me, "Geoff, if the intention of this policy was to stop you blogging, we'd have introduced it four years ago."

What I gather is that there have been incidents where one-on-one interaction between employees has bled out onto social media.

This is difficult. Ruffin and I spent an hour talking about harassment within the workplace. And what constitutes workplace.

Ruffin is actually much more generous (to employees) than I would be on this point. I came up with the idea of The Bathroom Door Rule.

The law and employee policy do not allow one person to make another person uncomfortable within the workplace. If a fella is talking to another fella in the bathroom, with the door closed, and a third fella, the subject of what the blokes are discussing, in what they believe to be the privacy of the bathroom, overhears that conversation, through the thin bathroom door, then that third person has been made to feel uncomfortable within his workplace, even though the conversation was supposedly private, and away from the immediate workplace.

I take the view that the immediacy and public nature of social media has created a virtual 'bathroom door,' and that, if there is posting on social media that makes an individual uncomfortable within their workplace, then it is fair for the workplace to bring that to the attention of the person doing the posting - at the very least.

The problem is this. As clever as I think I have allowed life to make me with the manipulation of words, even I can not find a form of words that distinguishes between a posting that potentially harasses an individual, and a posting that represents what I believe to be legitimate and democratic criticism of policy within my co-op.

This is compounded by the lack of independent definition and oversight of what constitutes 'adversely affect' and 'disparaging.'

The new Social Media Policy talks of the internal Dispute Resolution Process. And the ability of we employees to use it to resolve complaints that we might have. But, to be fair, it is a Process that is more suited to resolving disputes about interpretation of existing policy, not disputes about the policy itself.

As employee policy currently exists, along with the new Social Media Policy, if I blog criticism of co-op policy, and the corporate office management team find it disparaging and of adverse effect, I can be disciplined by them.

Well, if I am criticizing co-op policy, it is of its nature going to be disparaging. And not just of the policy, but of those who made it. Because one without the other is hollow.

What's more is there is going to be adverse effect. Of course there is. That's the whole point of the criticism. To change the policy. Which amounts to adverse effect!

If disciplinary charges are brought, as the Social Media Policy is worded, I would have no defense to the charge. Criticism of Policy = Disparagement + Adverse Effect = Discipline. And, because of the nature of the Dispute Resolution Process, I could not raise objection to the Policy itself, using that Process.

So. What to do? I think the answer is, suck it and see.

The WSM corporate office management team have an obligation to avoid activity by employees that could lead to discomfort in the workplace.

They have shown themselves open to the criticism that the new Social Media Policy could be abused to suppress legitimate discussion within the co-op. Bearing in mind that the Worker-Owner Mission Statement specifically admonishes all Worker-Owners to demonstrate co-operative principles, both within the workplace and in the community - which, as I pointed out to Ruffin and Deborah, is a command to discuss WSM matters openly in the workplace and in the community.

Ruffin (at least) has made it clear that he is not opposing such open discussion of WSM and its policies. He has said he is primarily concerned about individual harassment. He is not trying to stop folks having harmless fun or even engaging in legitimate protest online.

So. I will be writing to Ruffin and Deborah, to thank them for their changes, to raise my continued concerns, and to suggest that, at least for the moment, we move forward with the Social Media Policy as it stands, but with the caveat that it be interpreted with generosity, and that we all review its implementation in, say, a year's time.

As to the other changes to employee policy, I'm still not all that happy with the Confidentiality of Information section. But. One is never going to stop a corporate office wanting to keep all its paperwork private. Even in a co-op supposedly dedicated to transparency. So. I'll take my chances on that one ... !!