Millennial "Yelp Girl" & what Human Resources should have done differently

June 29, 2016 Christine Wong

Digital transformation of Human Resources department will inject new life into companies.

Digital transformation of Human Resources

Why did "Yelp Girl" do what she did, and how is that changing HR?

Yelp Girl is a real person. Talia Jane’s open letter blasting her pay and working conditions at Yelp went viral after she posted it online in February.

Jane, 25, complained that her $8.15 per hour salary (after taxes) was barely enough to pay for food and rent. She also took shots directly at Yelp for the health benefits, free snacks and drinks it provides to workers at its head office in San Francisco.

Two hours after her post hit the Internet, Jane got fired. Then her viral letter seemingly backfired; although many people supported her sentiments, hundreds of others slammed her online as an entitled, ungrateful millennial.

Though Yelp said Jane’s firing had nothing to do with her letter, some observers were skeptical. While Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman empathized somewhat with Jane on Twitter, he also tweeted that there are “two sides to every HR story.”

The Yelp Girl saga certainly demonstrates how digital technology – social media, in this instance – is redefining the relationship between workers and human resources today.

If anyone’s wondering whether technology is dramatically altering the dynamic between employees and employers, this story may be living proof.

51% of HR pros plan to hire part-time or contract staff

Deloitte describes the huge changes sweeping through employee/HR relations in its excellent and exhaustive 2016 Global Human Capital Trends report.

Automation and mobile technology have allowed many companies to streamline their fulltime workforce requirements by hiring more part-time, contract or freelance workers. Of the seven thousand HR pros Deloitte surveyed in 130 countries, more than half (51 per cent) plan to boost their use of contingent workers in the next three to five years.

This move caters to the shifting demands of many workers, too. According to Deloitte’s report, more than half the global workforce is now made up of millennials, “many of whom are less loyal to organizations than ever before.” Moreover, Deloitte states that today’s “employees value ‘culture’ and ‘career growth’ at almost twice the rate at which they value compensation and benefits when selecting an employer.”

How is this confluence of demographics and digital technology changing roles and expectations on both sides of the HR/employee fence?

Evolving expectations due to 'always on' availability

Workers these days simply expect more flexibility, choice and independence when it comes to their employment situation. Thanks to mobile, cloud, collaboration and videoconferencing technologies, they enjoy greater control over where, when and how they work.

The same technology, however, has created an expectation among some employers that staff are ‘always on’ and available 24/7 for work related duties or communications.

Then there’s BYOD (bring your own device), blurring the role of HR departments in managing how staff use their personal mobile devices for work.

         Security is top concern after 5 years of BYOD                         

Obviously the tools available to HR departments is changing, as the devices the entire business uses in day-to-day operations evolves. In the case of Yelp, did their human resources have the opportunity to proactively avoid this scenario? It's unclear, but keeping up with new methods of connecting with staff is always a good thing.

What can HR do differently?

In return for the greater flexibility HR managers are affording workers through mobile and cloud technologies, they expect employees to collaborate with colleagues remotely, manage their own workflows more independently and take the initiative in providing feedback and pursuing advancement within the company.

HR departments can take a closer look at some of the offerings and trends in business that may be improved in their company.

1. Offer self-directed learning

While HR is encouraging employees to be more independent at work, it’s similarly offering them new opportunities for self-directed learning. Online courses, podcasts, mobile apps, social networks and video tutorials allow staff to learn based on their own interests, needs and schedules.

2. Use predictive analytics

HR managers want to learn more about their staff, too. Many are using analytics to gauge the performance and satisfaction levels of the employees they’ve already hired. Based on both internal and external data sources, they’re tapping into predictive analytics to find the best ‘fit’ among job candidates, identify leadership talent among current staff or spot disgruntled workers ready to defect from their ranks—perhaps like Yelp Girl.

3. Pay attention to social media

Speaking of Yelp Girl, that whole episode highlights the role of social media (like the blogging site where she posted her infamous letter) in modern worker/HR relations. On social networks like LinkedIn, employees can easily engage in a constant search for work elsewhere. On other social sites like Glassdoor they can quickly view anonymous ratings of various employers – or leave their own.

HR, on the other hand, can actively monitor the same social channels to stay on top of employee sentiment in real time.

4. Poll your employees

Some organizations go a step further by using internal social tools to poll workers or solicit their anonymous feedback. Business-focused social networks like Yammer are a way of identifying sentiment, both positive and negative, from the employee base without being particularly invasive. 

Employees now expect HR to listen to them rather than just tell them what to do.  Social tools help employers to do just that, ensuring there are still, indeed, two sides to every HR story.

With these strategies, HR may be able to get in front of many of the employee issues and concerns that, if not addressed, would end up on a public forum like in the case of Yelp Girl. Whether the issues were accurate or not isn't necessarily the key point. Rather, it was the feelings and sentiments behind the issues that may be a sign of larger items that will end up resting on the shoulders of Human Resources.

Did you read Yelp Girl's open letter? What do you think of this type of messaging and response, and how would you have handled the situation if you were in the HR department? Tell us in the comments below. 

About the Author

Christine Wong

Christine Wong is a journalist based in Toronto who has covered a wide range of startups and technology issues. A former staff writer with ITBusiness.ca, she has also worked as a reporter for the Canadian Economic Press and in broadcast roles at SliceTV and the CBC.

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