Learning Your Company Can’t Afford to Pay You – Via Twitter

There are few things worse in our hyper-connected age than getting bad news via email, Internet, or some form of social media.

Radio Shack did this a few years ago when the company used email to lay off 400 workers, and I also wrote about a New York media agency where the company’s chief people officer accidentally e-mailed Microsoft PowerPoint and Word documents about how the company was planning to handle layoffs “to all staffers before the mistake was realized, and it was pulled back by the IT department.”

But bad as those incidents were, they sort of pale in comparison to this one, because today, Swedish automaker Saab joins the list of organizations that badly bungled major talent management issues via social media — they told 3,700 employees that the company couldn’t pay them anymore via Twitter.

Sabb tells 3,700 they won’t be paid via Twitter

According to USA Today‘s Drive On blog:

The company said today it has no money to pay its 3,700 employees … Not meeting payroll means production, essentially shut down since April 6, can’t restart any time soon restart because what supplier would deliver parts now without cash up front?”

And The New York Times adds that:

The more than 3,700 employees at Saab were last paid a month ago, said Gunilla Gustavs, a Saab spokeswoman. Blue-collar workers were to have been paid Thursday, while white-collar employees were to be paid next Monday.

Saab’s unions said they would formally demand their wages Monday, if they had not been paid by then, after which the company would have seven days to respond.”

Regardless of how Saab got into the financial mess it is currently in, how does a company decide to use Twitter to tell nearly 4,000 employees they aren’t going to get paid? How do you do that with any degree of sensitivity or attention to the critical details in 140 characters or less?

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News given right before big Swedish holiday

More to the point, could it be that the same executive decision-making that decided that Twitter was the best way to make this kind of announcement is the same sort of clueless thinking that led Saab into its financial difficulty in the first place? Somehow, I think there is a strong correlation between the two.

Saab employees are understandably upset — and that’s putting it mildly. According to the Christian Science Monitor:

The timing of the withheld wages couldn’t be worse for workers. Friday marks the beginning of the Swedish holiday Midsommar, a three-day festival where Swedes sit down to large meals and celebrations. Many start their summer vacations following the holiday, as well.

Employees said they were told of the news Thursday morning. “It is dreadful. Completely unbelievable. I get chest pains,” Saab employee Fredrik Almqvist told the Swedish news agency TT. “How on earth are we supposed to pay our bills?”

I’ve written a lot over the years about the bad things companies do to people, but this is one of the very worst I have ever seen. How would you have handled it?

Is Twitter or social media ever the way to tell workers about something like this? I’d love to see someone make a compelling case that justifies communicating with an organization’s entire workforce about something so critical and personal this way.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.

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