Running Scared: Why HR Shouldn’t Be Afraid of Honest Communications

At the end of February, the Internet met its latest superstar: Brad’s wife. If you haven’t heard about Brad’s wife Nanette, the story is simple. Nanette was fired from a Cracker Barrel where she worked as a server for 11 years. Neither her nor her husband understood why. So he turned to Facebook to ask the restaurant chain why she was fired. And an Internet sensation was born.

For weeks on end, people have been taking to the cause. Communicating on her behalf, they demanded answers and started an online petition. And when the company didn’t respond, they made up their own (negative) conclusions. A month later, the company still has yet to address the issue. So the internet is filling the void with continual posts to their Facebook page and Twitter asking for #justiceforbradswife.

A month? Crisis communications 101 tells us that ignorance can be the best policy sometimes. But in a world where communication knows no bounds anymore, why stay silent? It can’t be good for business, PR, employee engagement or talent acquisition. Even competitors including Chick-Fil-A and Bubba Gump have signs advertising to hire Brad’s wife.

The whole story is genuinely, laugh-out-loud funny. But it’s also such a lost opportunity. And organizations are losing the opportunity for honest communication and impact every single day. So why stay silent? It’s simple. We’re scared.

Human resources has played “scaredy cat” for as long as I’ve been in the profession (20 years) and long before that. From EEO claims to unions to lawsuits, we’re afraid to talk about—and talk to—our employees with any sense of openness, honesty and realism.

And sometimes, it makes sense. Lawyers exist for a reason. Pending lawsuits, grievances and claims mean HR professionals can’t talk. Understandable. But that doesn’t mean we have to be so shy we stay silent all the time.

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