Skip to main content

All the Workplace Is A Stage On the Internet

By now, you've heard about Karen Klein, the New York school bus monitor who was verbally bullied by some very mean middle schoolers. A fellow classmate used his phone to capture it all on video and summarily posted it to YouTube, and the rest is YouTube history. Here's the video.

I could only watch about two minutes of it before I had to stop. I know junior high middle school is one of the deepest pits in hell based on personal experience, but it's amazing to think that today's kids could be quite this mean and disrespectful toward their elders. What's equally amazing is how fast the Internet can mobilize to either reward or punish people at a moment's notice.

The swift Internet reaction is truly remarkable. Karen Klein's vacation fund now tops half a million dollars; the kids who bullied her got their names and personal contact information posted to the Internet. The contact information of their apologetic parents was also posted to the Internet, as well as some of the names of their co-workers. Let's just say that they've probably received a few angry messages lately. Police officers have been stationed outside the kids' homes for protection. Rallies are calling for an end to bullying.

Meta message: don't incur the Internet's wrath. Never, ever make the Internet angry. Don't feed it something it doesn't like, unless you want this sleeping giant to bite your hand, and head, off.

Instances such as the Karen Klein fiasco represent the ultimate nightmare for the modern manager, who, as I noted a few months ago, is now veeeery afraid of employees' smartphones, and for good reason. Specifically, management frets over the things employees might quietly record in the workplace, whether it's the boss firing people in strange ways, a co-worker melting down in front of the fryer, or someone sleeping on the job. The modern PR department keeps Ibuprofen on standby. Reporters keep busy, though.

It used to be that there was deniability. Managers and employees were able to debate whether or not something actually happened, but not anymore. Now there's cold, hard proof. We have the video, and pictures say a thousand words. Do I need to mention that Karen Klein was at work when this happened to her?

There's absolutely no privacy anymore, thanks to the smartphone, but most employers can't ban smartphones in the workplace because they've become far too integral to the work. Besides, employees would spend the day debating which century management has time traveled back to, eventually placing it around the early-to-mid 20th Century. Do we have to put on flapper dresses, too? No, we've crossed that bridge to the 21st Century, for better and for worse.

The only option for all employees across the workplace spectrum is to carry themselves like they're being filmed all the time. Ask yourself a question: Would you want whatever you're saying/doing/eating/scratching, etc. to have a million hits on YouTube by the end of the day? Because it could happen. I hate to write this because it sounds so paranoid and Orwellian, but that's where we are as a society until we figure out the role of the Internet in meting out reward and punishment. A decent amount of self-editing and self-awareness is the order of the day until that happens. Just be on your best behavior, all the time. You never know who might be watching. And filming. One day you're working, the next day you're featured on a new episode of Tosh.O.

As for the boys, I hope their lives get back to normal and that they learn a few life lessons about respect, kindness and civility. We all do things at that age we're not proud of, although for us over-35s it wasn't uploaded to the Internet.

Karen Klein is a new model for Internet behavior. She could have let the kids have it, but she didn't. She maintained self-control and acted like...well, she acted very much like a grown-up, didn't she? I don't know if she knew she was being filmed, but how she reacted in the moment speaks volumes. Maybe we're reaching a point in our mind-to-keyboard society where we're so used to watching people be uncivil toward each other online that we're genuinely surprised when we see someone who is able to exhibit so much composure and self-awareness?

The Karen Klein case behooves all of us to think about our own behavior in the larger, uncivil scheme of things, because our unintended close-ups are now only a surreptitious click and shoot away. And they'll be preserved for all posterity online so that our great, great, great grandchildren can watch someday and think, "Oh God, I'm actually related to that person!?" Ah, genetics.

Now I know the Under-30s who happen across this blog post will think I'm being overly-dramatic and a bit of a geezer, because everyone is doing everything online now, we're all living large in megabytes, this is me, live with it. Well, do what you want, then. Just don't be surprised if the Internet-as-organism is camped out on your doorstep by the end of the day, starts sending you thousands of angry messages, and hundreds of uppity YouTube users begin issuing video responses to whatever you said or did if it's outrageous enough. I won't say I told you so, but I told you so.


Popular posts from this blog

Seven tips for dealing with a jealous coworker

Look at you, doing so well at work! We're so happy for you. Well, most of us are happy for you and refuse to spend the entire work day talking behind your back. Let's talk about how to handle our jealous co-workers!Like every other professional, you've no doubt experienced your share of failures and successes. Lately, however, things seem to be going your way at work. And how! Perhaps you've managed to ace an important project this quarter, been instrumental in landing a huge client, earned some well-deserved rewards for this and that, or -- egads! -- been given a slight promotion or additional work responsibilities (e.g., the work responsibilities you actually want).You're quietly chuffed, but somehow your co-workers seem none too pleased with this rapid turn of events. Oh no, what should you do now?It's a workplace tale older than the disjointed last season of Mad Men. The playing field in the department was even, cozy and overall very friendly -- until so-an…

Employees Blame Technology For Slowing Them Down At Work

Do you feel like you're always working, but never getting very much done? If so, you're not alone. Too much technology, and too much red tape, keep slowing us down at work. But technology, and more of it, is supposed to make our lives easier! Too much technology, however, does not compute for employees. A new SAP/Knowledge@Wharton survey of almost 700 corporate employees finds a full 60% of respondents blame technology "for inhibiting their ability to meet strategic goals." Gee, anyone who has ever used the self-checkout line at the grocery store can tell you that. However, 40% surveyed said that looking for ways to simplify the technology has been "a low priority" for their company. Too much paperwork is an on-going problem for the workplace, too. A new ServiceNow survey of nearly 1,000 managers finds that 90% are doing too much administrative work, no matter the size of the company. This paperwork includes filling out forms, writing status updates, …

Is Your Co-worker Always Late For Work?

You've started the workday, but where is your co-worker? Oh, she's running late again, just like yesterday. And the day before. And the day before that. Let's get an early start on solving her tardiness problem, shall we? Working with someone who is consistently late is one of the most annoying aspects of office life, and also one of the most common, unfortunately. It's a universal theme of the workplace that everyone will get to work on time (give or take a few minutes...) except for the employee who is egregiously late nearly every day. And the excuses can get pretty amazing. Employees became more punctual as the Great Recession lingered, at least according to surveys. Everyone, that is, except for your able-bodied but habitually-tardy co-worker. It's bad enough dealing with tardiness when you're a manager, but it can be even more frustrating when you're a rank-and-file peer without any magical "shape up or ship out" managerial powers. So you…