By Dr. Eugene Brink
Most of us can attest to being part of numerous WhatsApp groups. Some of them are social and often inane, some are interest- and hobby-related, and an increasing number of them are work-related.
Crises management, quick reaction times and instant brainstorming are often imperatives in the modern workplace and especially in certain professions. Hence the need for instantaneous communication and platforms such as WhatsApp.
WhatsApp groups for work purposes have immense value as they allow us to communicate faster whilst promoting constant cohesion, which is important if teams are spread over vast distances. Instead of losing time by way of communicating via other less-synchronised means and running the risk of second-hand information distorting decision-making, information can be exchanged and decisions made in real-time and with much greater efficacy.
Unfortunately, there are downsides, too. And these apply to companies and individuals alike.
“The adoption of such messaging platforms at work poses serious problems for business leaders concerned about issues such as security, compliance and, ultimately, corporate reputation,” tech expert Sean Nolan wrote on LinkedIn. “We believe the next big corporate scandal could very likely be the product of a workplace messaging group — leaked WhatsApp messages, a courtroom drama and, ultimately, hefty fines and even jail.”
He illustrates this by way of an example of a former investment banker being fined a whopping £37 000 for using WhatsApp to share confidential client information with people outside work. Moreover, he lost his job.
This might seem like an extreme example, but it probably won’t be the last.
Nolan emphatically points to the fact that messaging apps such as WhatsApp uses the contacts on a user’s smartphone rather than an enterprise directory and this leads to boundaries being blurred. “It’s not just poorly-judged messages that are the risk. One slip and a message intended for someone inside the organisation can end up going to someone on the outside, potentially with confidential data and attachments. This is clearly a nightmare in terms of security and compliance, but there could also be legal and reputational ramifications if sensitive information leaks out. What if important intellectual property ends up in the wrong hands?
“Personal security blunders — like falling victim to a phishing scam — suddenly become problems for the company, and difficult ones to fix.”
Another problem for employees is that they are always on high alert as participation in WhatsApp groups are often regarded as a proxy for commitment to the team. Many bosses expect their employees to be available at all hours to respond to WhatsApp messages. “South African employees are being held hostage by company WhatsApp groups and demanding bosses who threaten disciplinary action for unanswered messages. Bullying bosses cite participation in group chats as a way to judge ‘teamwork skills’ for performance assessments,” writes Nivashni Nair in Sunday Times.
Niar highlights the case of a Durban public relations practitioner being informed that participation in a group was “non-negotiable” after complaining that it had changed from “being a platform to discuss work projects to a forum where unprofessional memes were shared, colleagues insulted one another other and supervisors reprimanded staff”.
Even if WhatsApp didn’t exist, overbearing bosses would still be able to reach their employees. Crafting a remedy for the ills of WhatsApp groups is therefore universally applicable and the keyword is “boundaries”. Cosmopolitan.co.za has some wise advice on WhatsApp etiquette:
– No WhatsApp messages after 19:00.
– If you want to send that joke meme at 22:00, don’t.
– If the conversation is between two people only, take it somewhere else.
– If you want to leave the group, have a word with your boss first.
– If you do not get a response, don’t get mad.
Amy Purdon, contributor at the tech site WebAfrica, adds that one should always stick to the purpose of the group and not share irrelevant information about other topics. Also, never berate someone or air grievances and when the group has run its course, close it.
Amy Purdon, 19 February 2018, “The golden rules of WhatsApp groups”, https://www.webafrica.co.za/blog/general-knowledge/golden-rules-whatsapp-groups/.
Cosmopolitan, 2016, “Why your work WhatsApp groups are ruining your life”, https://www.cosmopolitan.co.za/real-talk/work-whatsapp-groups-ruining-life/.
Nivashni Nair, 26 June 2016, “Bully bosses told to shove WhatsApp groups”, https://www.timeslive.co.za/sunday-times/news/2016-06-26-bully-bosses-told-to-shove-whatsapp-work-groups/.
Sean Nolan, 21 April 2017, “WhatsApp: The time bomb in your organisation”, https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/whatsapp-time-bomb-your-organisation-sean-nolan.