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It’s easy to become annoyed at colleagues from time to time and to want to vent away your frustrations. However, most people are aware of the dangers of bad-mouthing coworkers, particularly over email or Slack (WORK). Not only will your comments be on written record, they can be seen by anyone – which can land you in trouble.
Recently, three senior Netflix (NFLX) employees were reportedly fired by the company after criticising their colleagues over Slack. that the streaming giant fired three senior marketing executives for comments aimed at management in what the workers thought was a private channel.
The publication reported that the terminated employees’ manager, Jonathan Helfgot, vice-president of original films marketing, was one of those criticised.
However, Netflix has presented a different side to the story. Ted Sarandos, the company’s co-CEO, denied that the office gossip was directed at the leadership, but at other workers at the company, which went against company ethics.
“What happened here was unfortunately not simply venting on Slack or a single conversation,” . “These were critical, personal comments made over several months about their peers (not their management as suggested by The Hollywood Reporter) – including during meetings when those peers were talking or presenting.”
Sarandos added: “This is entirely inconsistent with those values, which is why their manager fired them. It’s also worth noting that we don’t proactively monitor Slack or email. The Slack channel was open so anyone could access the conversations even though the employees concerned thought it was private.”
Expressing your frustrations is important and can help to reduce stress. However, doing so recklessly can land you in hot water. In 2019, employees at the luggage firm Away were reportedly fired after complaining about their company in a secret Slack channel.
But can your boss really fire you for grumbling about other people on Slack?
“This depends on the rules that are in place in the organisation and whether a disciplinary offence has taken place, or whether the trust and confidence that must exist between employer and employee has been broken,” says Alan Price, CEO of .
“It will also depend on the exact nature of the criticism and any mitigation put forward by the employee. A fair procedure is always needed for dismissing someone, and that procedure should draw out all of the relevant considerations to ensure a fair dismissal.”
It can also depend on what has been said, too. Remarks of a discriminatory nature, including racial and misogynistic comments and abuse aimed at workers with disabilities, are a serious matter.
Bullying and harassment should be dealt with thoroughly and the perpetrators subject to disciplinary action. If left unaddressed, bullying can impact the individuals being targeted as well as the company culture on the whole. Employees may also be disciplined for revealing private or confidential information, too.
However, Price adds, messages of general frustration about work are normal and may not require further action.
“Employers may do well to realise that it’s quite normal for employees to have complaints about their work, or about their boss, and want to vent these to their colleagues to get help on how to deal with them appropriately,” he says.
“What are otherwise very valuable employees may be lost due to some loose words which could be valid,” explains Price.
“Employers shouldn’t restrict an employee’s ability to raise concerns where necessary. For example, through a grievance procedure, otherwise a company culture may be cultivated which passively discourages employees from standing up for what they think is right.”