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Ogre in the corner office, beware

How blogging is changing the workplace


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Wendy Webb writes on human resources and training issues for the franchise industry.
Wendy can be reached at wkwebb@charter.net

Gone are the days when egomaniacal bosses could whip their cowering underlings into a sycophantic frenzy with outrageous demands, public insults and demoralizing assignments. Today’s badly behaving boss would find his or her antics splashed all over the Internet on an employee’s personal Web site or Web log.

Bosses everywhere should know this generation is entering the workplace already equipped with their own personal Web sites or blogs that they’ve created in high school or college. The sites include all sorts of personal information, as if they’re writing in a journal. Only millions of people worldwide can read it.

Employers can do a Google search of a prospective employee’s name to find his or her Web site and see exactly what kind of person lurks behind that crisp interview suit and polished smile. But it might also be prudent to do a similar search a few months after making the hire. One thing tech-savvy employees tend to do is to talk on their blog about their boorish bosses.

Case in point: the new Meryl Streep movie, “The Devil Wears Prada.” It’s the story of a young assistant at a New York fashion magazine who works for the worst boss imaginable. The story is based, in part, on real life. The author was a young assistant at Vogue magazine working for its famously demanding editor. Instead of swallowing the insults and degrading assignments, this gal started writing the ugly (thinly disguised) truth about her boss, swiftly got a book and movie deal, and now basks in the glow of her large royalty checks rather than cowering at the feet of a bully.

It’s not an isolated case. We’ve entered an era dubbed by The New York Times as “underling-tells-all.” Today’s generation of entry-level employees is regularly dishing about what goes on inside their workplaces. Some, like Prada’s author, even find book and movie deals because of it. There’s “Washingtonienne,” a new book written by a Washington intern who was fired for blogging about her colorful experience in our nation’s Capitol. There’s also “Anonymous Lawyer,” a popular blog skewering the legal industry.

Some people bemoan the lack of civility of a tell-all blog. Dirty workplace laundry shouldn’t be publicly aired, they say. To paraphrase a recent quote in The New York Times, if Cinderella were alive today, she wouldn’t be riding off with Prince Charming, she’d be dishing dirt about her awful stepfamily on her blog.

But I say, blog on! Workplace stress takes an exacting toll on a majority of Americans and nobody, not even the boss, has the right to make the workplace a nightmare. This new generation has figured out a way to use technology to fight back, just a little, and hold the boors accountable for their actions.

How can you make sure your name doesn’t appear on an employee’s blog? Here’s some advice from Bruce Katcher of the Discovery Group, which surveys employees on pressing issues of today’s workplace: Treat your employees with respect and dignity. Involve them in important decisions. Empower your employees. Communicate assignments clearly. Give credit where credit is due. Do not make unreasonable demands.

It’s about respecting the contributions of everyone in the workplace, no matter their station. If you don’t, you might soon find that everyone—your mother, colleagues, high school principal and millions of people you don’t know—have read all about it.

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