Ray Rice, a running back who formerly played football for the Baltimore Ravens, has become a black eye of the National Football League. Rice punched his girlfriend, Janay Palmer, who has since married Rice. She was knocked unconscious by the attack. Rice was indicted for third-degree aggravated assault. Following the allegations, a video was released which left no doubt about the extent of the violence involved in the incident. Following the release of the video and the resulting public outrage, Rice’s contract was terminated by the Ravens and he was indefinitely suspended by the NFL.
The domestic violence case of Ray Rice is case in point that “social media has eliminated the barrier between what an employee does at work and on their own time,” says Doug Shimada, president of Ki Talent Research. While not diminishing the actions of Rice or the effects they had on Palmer, Shimada feels that social media has directly influenced the line between one’s professional and personal life.
“With the widespread use of social media, the manner in which HR professionals select and then deal with staff issues is under increased scrutiny. Social media has the ability to ‘shine a light’ on activities within an organization or while an employee is on their own time that likely were swept under the rug in the past,” states Shimada. “Today the consequence of these allegations going viral amplifies the possible damage that could occur to the organization and their brand. This is of course in addition to the impact on the victims.”
Shimada goes on to say that even if Rice’s suspension was lifted, most teams will not want him on their team. “It would look like the team supports wife battering,” he says. Rice has become a liability to future employers because of his actions off the field that were publicized through social media. In some cases, social media can even magnify minor offenses and the public can progress from allegation to conviction to punishment without due process, states Shimada.
“I have been fascinated by the turn of events in North America during the past six months, particularly as they pertain to celebrities, sporting figures, and inappropriate behavior,” says Shimada. But he sees an advantage for human resources professionals in these events. “I think that we in HR can make a great contribution to reducing the risk to our organizations, if we choose to.” He believes that situations, such as Rice’s, draws attention to a number of complexities associated with an employer brand as well as demonstrating the impact of social media.
Shimada stresses that HR professionals can define a link between HR policy and the organizational strategy, specific to protecting the company brand. Human resources professionals should adopt specific practices to align current hiring practices with the company values and culture in order to support the organization’s image. Shimada points out that all employees behaviors, both in and out of work, will reflect on the company brand, both positively and negatively.
Hiring managers often concentrate solely on technical qualification – those skills needed to complete the job – without any acknowledgement to work behavior and character. However, Shimada feels that HR leaders can gain a seat at the executive table with an effort to defend the organizational brand through focusing more on the quality of people who are hired.
Shimada suggests using a multi-step hiring process, focusing particularly on reference checking. Character is objective, and unfortunately, too easy for individuals to lie about. His hiring model offers “a holistic approach to interviewing which reviews technical skills and also the inclusion of work character.” He recommends the use of a reference checking mechanism, such as Checkster, a social-media-style reference check service.
Checkster is different in that it puts reference checking in the hands of the candidate. The HR manager sends a link to the candidate, who will be asked to have specific contacts click through to Checkster and fill out the form. The contacts are asked to identify their relationship to the candidate and answer questions candidly. Upon completion, they submit the form, which is sent in its entirety back to the candidate, who must return it to the HR department. The candidate has no ability to alter the content of the references and the company cannot be held liable for any content within the report.
Shimada states that using a service such as Checkster frees up time for the HR department and hiring manager, prevents interview bias, and enables companies to recruit higher quality employees who not only are qualified for the position, but also represent the company brand both professionally and personally.