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The $200,000 Meme – Is it Illegal To Have a Work Group Chat?

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  1. WEEKLY INSIGHT

The In-Crowd uses Exclusion as a Weapon…how Racial Discrimination led to Employee Suicide.

Every employee tends to favour co-workers whom they see as similar to themselves, which is explained by the concept of “in-groups“. Employees display favourable attitudes towards members of their own groups. This phenomenon, known as in-group bias, stems from social identity theory, a concept that evolved from the research conducted by social psychologists Henri Tajfel and John Turner.

These in-groups have members (or colleagues) who share our interests, backgrounds, or communication styles, often providing a safe space and camaraderie. Further, research proves that employees who have a best friend at work are twice as likely to be engaged in their jobs

However, there are obviously significant drawbacks. First, it fosters echo chambers, wherein individuals are exposed solely to information that reinforces pre-existing beliefs, consequently narrowing their work. Second, it precipitates the formation of cliques—a phenomenon where there are ‘in-groups’ that exclude others, thereby engendering a fragmented work environment.

Furthermore, social exclusion, rejection, and ostracisation, especially in a work context, trigger intense feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and even depression. Studies show that the pain of rejection can be as intense as physical pain. In Australia, particularly in the aftermath of the pandemic, workplace loneliness persists; according to a new survey, over 42% of Aussie workers report feeling lonely or excluded at work.

You’re either in or out. Out-group bias involves a predisposition toward viewing those outside one’s ‘in-group’ with suspicion or even animosity (Monash University, 2019). Such biases obstruct collaboration, stifle innovation, and diminish workplace satisfaction, potentially leading to discrimination against colleagues.

Take the tragic event that happened at EY in May of 2023. 23-year-old, newly-wed Aishwarya Venkatachalam (Assurance Specialist) passed away after falling from the 11th floor of the office amid allegations of racism, bullying, and a toxic workplace culture.

The tragic incident took place at a work event, where alcohol was consumed. Reports concluded that in the moments prior, Miss Aishwarya was vocally expressing how discriminatory her managers had acted towards her. It is clear an outgroup had been formed in her team; a marginalisation based on race sees the highest threats to employees’ psychological safety (Delizza et al., 2016). 

Another focal point of concern is the fear among staff about retaliation affecting their careers if they participate in the ensuing investigation. This situation exemplifies a classic out-group versus in-group dynamic. Employees, viewed as the out-group, worried that engaging in the investigation could invite punishment from the in-group (management or the dominant social group), who might see the investigation as a threat to their standing or reputation.

Today in Australia, the divide between “Us” and “Them” persists. It is crucial for employers to step in to avoid conflicts between different groups and promote a peaceful work environment. A useful strategy is to enlighten employees about how group divisions are often based on arbitrary criteria, which can help reduce strain. To illustrate this, you could reference the Robbers Cave experiment, or even conduct a simple demonstration by sorting individuals into groups based on trivial characteristics such as eye colour or which football teams they support. Or, leave it with us… integrate expert consulting services into your strategic planning- book [click here] a Management Workshop with marvinHR.

2. HR/IR & LEADERSHIP.

BFF to Backstaber? Digital Work Group Chats Destroying Careers.

When talking about work group chats, I’m not talking about the company-wide one everyone is in. I’m talking about the inevitable subgroups born out of the larger fabric of our organisational structure. Social belonging is an essential human need, and being a part of social groups is important in shaping our social identities (Micheal et al., 2010).

Before you create a private subgroup within your organisation’s chat platform, pause and ask yourself: “Who am I trying to exclude and why?” If you find that your reasons involve hiding conversations, it’s crucial to reevaluate the necessity of those discussions.

While seeking solace or sharing grievances with a trusted colleague is understandable, choosing more personal communication methods, such as a phone call or a face-to-face meeting over coffee, significantly minimises risk. It’s essential to be mindful of the perpetual mark left by our digital interactions. Know that your online conversations are never private.

Take this famous case as an example:

Scott Tracey v BP Refinery (Kwinana) Pty Ltd [2020] FWCFB 820 (28 February 2020)

But you may have just heard of it referred to as Tracey v BP Refinery. Here, Scott Tracey, a process technician at BP’s Kwinana Oil Refinery, shares got fired and later vindicated.

Tracey faced misconduct allegations after sharing a parody video of a scene from the iconic movie Downfall to lampoon BP management’s stance during crucial pay and condition negotiations. For those not familiar with it, this is also known as the “Downfall Hitler meme.” 

Tracey shared this meme in a Facebook group with the following subtitles: “I offered the carrot, I tried using the stick…Don’t they know I’m in charge?” and “I made promises to London.”

The controversy unfolded as BP launched an investigation into Tracey’s actions. The FWC pondered whether the harsh dismissal penalty was an overreaction to the purported misconduct. In the end, they deemed the dismissal flawed. They ruled that Tracey was unfairly dismissed and put him back in his position (reinstated) with $200,000 in compensation. 

This case highlights the blurred lines between professional and personal interactions in the digital age. It’s important to consider the element of consent and the consequences of private messaging in the workplace. Understandably, ensuring proper consent to send images to a workmate when they have not yet even viewed the material can be quite difficult.

The Privacy Act 1988 usually applies the fair and reasonable policy, employers can only monitor their employees when they have a reason to, i.e. suspected underperformance or bullying. But its always best to assume your employer can see your work group chats, regardless of the platform.

Before hitting send in any work group chat, ask yourself if you are okay with your manager or the CEO seeing the message, if its not yes, don’t send.

Further, for employers wanting to brush up on the ‘Best Practice’ regarding employee Privacy, see FWO’s 2024 Guide here:

3. TEAM DIARY

51% of working Aussies hold Tertiary Qualifications, Unveil Learning Aspirations. Know Your People. 

Exciting news for all our dedicated listeners 🎙️@marvinHR’s Perth Podcast for Professionals is releasing its 7th episode on the 5th engagement factor – Learning. This will go live tomorrow at noon!

In this episode, we have Nick shedding light on a fascinating perspective – explaining the profound impact of having a best friend at work (hint mentioned this earlier in the newsletter). This doesn’t just stay within the bounds of camaraderie but extends into mentorship and the unveiling of one’s potential through guidance in those challenging blind spots. Nick’s takeaways are rooted in the science of workplace dynamics, offering listeners a refreshing outlook on professional relationships and growth.

Joining the dialogue, Saarrah will discuss the crucial role of continuous learning and development in retaining talent. Reflecting on her experiences, she emphasises the transformative power of optimising personal networks over traditional recruitment methods and how a simple strategic connection can be a game changer in one’s career.

Then, Ella brings an inspiring story of innovation and success from the Australian fashion scene. Discover how Harper Lu made a grand entrance into a crowded market by leveraging unique and personal networks and an exclusive design philosophy that stands tall against the mass-produced ethos of today’s fast fashion industry.

Set your reminders for noon tomorrow because this is an episode you won’t want to miss! Join us as we unravel the layers of learning with Nick, Saarrah, and Ella. Tune in, get inspired, and transform how you see your world and its opportunities. See you there! Watch on YouTube or Spotify.

4. THIS WEEKS TOP 4 HR READS

  1. Australia’s Minimum Wage to Increase on 1 July 2024
  2. Union push for five weeks’ annual leave for everyone
  3. ‘Didn’t sign up for this’ Fed-up Doctor blasts Aussie bosses over sick days
  4. WA-based national recruitment firm collapses staff sacked.

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