This is not always easy to do. Case in point this week: Apple Computer (Disclosure: I love Apple Computer and own, much to my wife's dismay, virtually every product they have ever come out with, so it pains me to point out this questionable HR management moment but, alas, that is our job.)
Apparently, Apple Computer has an employee talent show in which it invites employees to participate with there own performances. (Think of it as "American Idol" for computer programmers.) In the most recent show, a customer service rep performed a somewhat humorous poem along the lines of "Def Comedy Jam". (If you don't know what this is, stop a teenager on the street and ask them. - That's what I had to do.) Said poem made a humorous reference to leaving a rude customer on customer service hold for a very long time.
Management no likey the poem. Management fire the employee.
OK, now I guess I can understand management not being completely pleased with an employee mentioning customer hold times as a part of a comical skit. To my mind it really isn't all that offensive (and not terribly unrealistic given some of the hold times I have racked up on tech support lines) but whatever, its your company.
Here's the rub: Sometimes things are only a big deal because you make them so. Had management called this employee in the following week and said, "Hey, I saw your act. I know it was in the spirit of fun and everything but in the future let's not reference doing anything bad to our customers b/c that is against our company ethic, etc. etc." that would have likely resolved the issue and no one would have even remembered the comment the next day.
By overreacting (in my opinion) and firing the employee in the heat of the moment, you invite trouble. Co-employees will be upset. The event will take on more importance than it deserves and make the water cooler rounds for a few weeks. Management is open to all kinds of comments like "Think different...just don't say it." (For the uninitiated, "Think Different" is an old Apple slogan.). And....who knows what the terminated employee will do.
Well, in this case, we actually do know. He used his Apple computer (which is an excellent tool for putting together slick little media pieces quickly) to produce a movie titled "Why I got Fired from Apple." He posted it on the web. And now, thousands of people get to see the performance that got this employee fired and decide decide for themselves about the professionalism or lack thereof of his comments.
Thus, what was arguably an inappropriate remark made at an internal company function is now a public piece of video getting more airplay than all of Apple's Ipod ads. In short, the situation is much, much worse.
Incidentally, here is the video:
Nod to HR Lori for the link.