The open letter movement: Does your company need to worry?

If you've spent any time at all on social channels these last couple weeks, you've probably stumbled across at least one "open letter."

The most notable one circulating the digital contentverse was by a disgruntled, 25-year-old Yelp employee who aired her frustrations about being underpaid -- and literally hungry -- on Medium, in a public letter to the company's CEO.

Shortly thereafter, that letter spurred a flurry of online commentary, including another open letter by a 29-year-old who tore into the original author, relaying her own anecdotes of struggle, and sacrifice to pursue her dreams when she was the former author's age.

But that author didn't get away unscathed either. Another woman, this one 36, also turned to Medium to give the 29-year-old a piece of her mind and reprimand her for her lack of empathy for the former Yelp employee. 

As such, each letter continued to fuel the Yelp debacle. 

And then, just when Yelp's PR nightmare seemed to be coming to an end, another (recently) former Yelp employee -- a single mom -- turned to Medium to air her grievances about the company's lack of support and empathy for her, first when her son was ill, and then when she was fired after asking for 3 unpaid days off to spend with her boyfriend who was in the ICU suffering from brain bleeding after a mountain biking accident. 

Yikes. From a cultural lens, the tech giant isn't looking too hot right now. 

Yelp is going to have to do some heavy duty crisis management to get through this -- and probably bring in a fleet of management, culture, and PR consultants -- but if their core cultural DNA is in the right place, there's a good chance they can get through this. 

The pertinent takeaways for other leaders aren't just derived from learning from Yelp's people and culture mishaps (although there's lots to learn there). The part that really needs to sink in with the leaders reading this is that this is the first time in history that employees have the opportunity to grab the mic and step onto a global stage to share their innermost thoughts and feelings to whoever will click through, listen, and perhaps even share them.

Anyone who works for you now, or who has worked for you in the past, or who has merely interviewed to work at your company has the ability to log onto Medium (or Facebook, LinkedIn, reddit, etc.) tear into your company, your culture, your business practices, or your people, and unleash their most candid thoughts on the world. 

My fingers are crossed that you'll never be subjected to so-called "employer shaming," but we also need to take proactive, realistic measures to ensure that's not the case. We can do that first by ensuring we take our people's best interests into consideration, and then by continuing to check up on them. We need to give them outlets and support systems that allow them to feel heard and looked after before they turn to the infinite amplification powers of the Internet.

"The lesson learned from Yelp's employee PR disaster is that companies should provide employees a way to work through their challenges privately, or you could be at risk of them doing something desperate, dramatic, and very public," wrote J.T. O'Donnell, the CEO of CareerHMO.com, in Inc.

"An example would be offering private coaching as a wellness benefit. Unlike traditional mentor or buddy programs, the coaching is done with outside advisors who aren't required to report back to the employer, providing a safe place for the employee to open up and seek advice that can help them survive and thrive in their role."

However you choose to handle it -- with your internal people & culture team, or with an outside coach -- the bottom line is that we need to be more pro-active in how we handle the employee experience.

What measures is your company taking to catch cultural issues early? Do you have systems in place for regularly check-ins before crises hit? We'd love to hear about them in the comments below.