Cancel culture refers to the popular practice of withdrawing support for (canceling) public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive.
Cancel culture is generally discussed as being performed on social media in the form of group shaming.
We've seen quite a lot of this lately in the media. The loudest critics joining in a campaign to overthrow a person, or people. Or to punish or banish a person, people, or a company for what is considered questionable words or acts.
In other word, to culturally block someone from having a public platform or career.
How does this relate to workplace culture? If a whistleblower is not seeing the type of result they want after they blow the whistle repeatedly, they're going to head to social media to voice their concerns. And in doing so, start the process of canceling the company, or any member of management.
And we know that messages on social media spread fast. So any negative content has the potential to explode into something huge that many companies may not particularly have the time or resources to engage in.
It works like this. When an employee makes many repeated attempts to speak up and share something they feel is wrong, and in doing so continues to feel they are not being heard, or are being ignored, or they perceive nothing is being done about their concern, their feelings on the matter will escalate.
Many would call this the over-reactive zone of communication. The over-reactive zone is the zone an employee will find themselves in when they are very frustrated that they can not believe a situation is is turning out the way it is. Specifically, a situation they have brought to the attention of management. In this zone, the emotions that they feel or the experiences they live are now beyond understanding.
An employee will find themselves in this zone when their repeated attempts to bring wrongdoing to the attention of management continues to be ignored.
In the over-reactive zone, employees will become more aggressive. They will become more argumentative and more disruptive in their behaviours. Once an employee slips into this over-reactive zone, it is more challenging to have a calm and rational conversation. The employee is enraged and frustrated with their situation.
At this point, an employee will have no qualms about taking their concern to social media in an attempt to 'cancel' the company, and any member of management they feel just doesn't care.
How do you prevent unhappy employees from going to social media?
Acknowledge their complaint right away. First, thank the whistleblower for taking the time to come forward. You don't have to agree or disagree with their concern. But just by thanking them initially shows them you have acknowledged them.
Second, try to avoid voicing your perspective of the reported concern. Our tendency is to jump in and share our perspective right away and this can make the whistleblower not feel heard. Instead, ask open-ended questions of the employee and keep these questions neutral. This is to help you understand why the employee has chosen to speak up.
Use language like "I'm hearing that you are are concerned with [something] and you are worried that [something might happen]. Is this correct?" This helps to initiate a meaningful and trusting collaboration between the whistleblower and management.
Keep asking questions of the whistleblower. Even if you don't necessarily need the information, ask questions. Generally people don't leave in the middle of a conversation so keeping the whistleblower engaged, even with random questions while you get the investigation started will show the whistleblower you are interested in their effort to speak up.
Communicate. Engage. Listen. And don't judge. This is how to build a trust culture, not a cancel culture.