Cancel culture in the business world is real & it can hurt you! This term entered our vocabularies quite a while ago. But now, it entered offices and remote teams worldwide. Finally, it affected brands as a whole, turned loyal customers against their once-favorite sellers, and converted former followers to vocal haters.
So, let’s get started by defining this phenomenon (and taking a dekko at some prominent cancel culture examples). Then, we’ll move on to its effects inside the company and find out more about dodging the devastating impacts of being called out.
Cancel culture: examples & everything you need to know
The term “cancel culture” was coined in the early 2010s. And today, this little, somewhat notorious phrase feels more relevant than ever. According to Wikipedia-like pages, its predecessor and less-known (+ less dramatic) synonym is call-out culture. However, according to history textbooks, the idea itself has roots in Ancient Greece. Socrates was one of the first prominent people to be *almost* canceled.
Yes, we’re talking about the same civilization that literally invented drama.
But what is cancel culture, in simple terms? It refers to modern-day ostracism. It entails that someone’s cast out from a specific circle. These circles can be social or professional and can also affect one’s online presence or in-person relationships. In other words – it means someone was canceled. And this kind of mass thrust of an individual happens when they have acted or spoken improperly or offensively.
So, who’s canceled?
From Greek Philosophers to Kanye West – no one is safe! If the person, even if they’re a celebrity, acts or speaks in an unacceptable way, they’ll likely be subjected to cancel culture and its effects. And while some examples seem justified, to say the least, others feel more like a massive overreaction. Chain-overreaction, to be more accurate.
One of the best cancel culture examples that have turned into a huge wave of passing over was the case of Joe Rogan vs. vaccines, which became Joe Rogan vs. vaccines vs. Spotify. How so? Well, his stance was interpreted as anti-vax, and, be it true or not, many musicians chose to boycott Spotify because it hosted Joe’s podcast. A long list of his objectors contained some stellar artists like Neil Young. However, Spotify didn’t cave in; they refused to drop Joe Rogan.
The general public also held a grudge against Donald Trump (and his vocal + influential supporters like Roseanne Barr), Dr. Seuss, and Ben Shapiro. These individuals were charged with misogyny, racism, and pro-war statements, and society was happy to ostracize the 280 Twitter characters out of them.
Kanye West: The (un)official cancel culture icon
If there were a competition in the number of famous + forgotten controversies, Kanye would be the absolute champion. His backlash-worthy actions started in 2009 when he interrupted Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech. And more recently, he was accused of using a slogan more typical for the Ku Klux Klan. Finally, in October 2022, his social posts were regarded as antisemitic.
So, is Kanye canceled? Well, yes and no. While his latest slips made numerous brands sever ties with the musician, he’s still not banished. There are groups upon groups of those who support the rapper no matter what.
However, Adidas, Balenciaga, and Sketchers are just some of the fashion brands that have dropped him. And they’re not alone. Even his bank has turned its back on the rapper and all entities linked to his name. Well, both old and new names.
But what is cancel culture in the workplace?
So, we have feasted our eyes on the juicy details from the lives of celebrities being boycotted for a while. But now’s the time to get back into our world of business. This is essential because the cancel culture has already made its way into the workplace. And here’s the naked truth – knowing why cancel culture is toxic when speaking about our very own companies and environments is the key to stopping the negative actions before they occur.
Here’s how the unfavorable scenario would go – it all starts with unresolved issues or conflicts between colleagues. And if the management doesn’t react, the staff will take the matter into their own hands. Now, this climate will probably form a harmful atmosphere where individuals or groups ignore and blacklist someone. So, it’s best to stop these sorts of situations and behaviors before they even happen.
How damaging is cancel culture in the workplace?
This “culture” detriments office dynamics and places a tremendous deal of stress on all employees, not only the cancelers and those who were canceled. Still, the target will undoubtedly go through the roughest patch since they’re made aware that they’re not welcome. As a result, productive work and cooperation usually become unattainable for the boycotted individual, and they frequently have no other alternative than to look for a new job.
That way, the firm encounters a brand-new issue which is employee retention, a significant chunk of work all healthy companies strive to improve. More importantly, the bad and ugly will undeniably spread, making a lasting impact on potential applicants. And this particular problem will take its toll on future branding and recruitment efforts beyond a shadow of a doubt.
Now, sometimes the targeted person was, in fact, what you’d call a bad seed. Still, cancel culture is never the answer to this headache. Not to mention that this sort of exclusion at work pops up in the context of personal grudges or power plays.
Employers’ guide: How to cancel cancel culture in the workplace?
Truth be told, cancel culture has a few perks:
- Conveying a valuable message is part of the democratic process and free speech,
- Holding everyone accountable for their words and behaviors,
- Challenging agitators, who intentionally hurt others, or influential people beyond our reach.
Still, when it breaches into the workplace, it almost always brings far more harm than benefits. So, companies must take action before this act of boycotting endangers their teams. Here’s a brief guide on how to steer clear of it:
- Hiring the right people – knowing the company’s precise hiring needs, candidate persona, and sources of qualified talents who will fit into the crew,
- Checking out everyone’s digital footprint before making a job offer,
- Talking to the staff members, team leaders, managers, recruiters, and interviewers.
These three steps will stop internal conflicts from happening and will also diminish the risks of the whole brand getting canceled on a large scale.
💡 How to spot and hire the best candidates
Hiring the right candidate means more than having someone who’ll get the job done within the agreed time frame. The choices employers make, and the people they welcome onboard will shape the business’s future. And that also means that people are often the reason why audiences or customers worship or boycott a brand. So, it’s best to dedicate some extra time and effort to these crucial steps:
- Writing clear and inclusive job descriptions to aim at the much-needed hard skills and industry knowledge, and paying attention to one’s soft skills too,
- Getting ready for job interviews and choosing structured interviews before making the final call to eliminate any chances of unconscious bias,
- Asking for references and/or double-checking their social pages to make sure no hate speech or sketchy posts are on there.
This way, the team will stay free of potentially cancelable colleagues, the firm will skip unpleasant and reputation-threatening situations, and lots of time and money will be saved. Not to mention that no one’s mental health will be put in danger due to stressful situations that cancel culture often triggers.
What does a “digital footprint” entail?
Digital footprint inspections are revolutionizing all hiring processes. They can help companies block out sexism, racism, and different forms of intolerance from setting foot inside their workplace. These checks will underline even the teeniest red flags in a candidate’s online activity. And they can spread across social media, forums, the Dark Web, news stories, and more. Here are some warning signs they can pick up:
- Discriminatory behaviors like sexism, racism, homophobia, etc.
- Unprofessional behaviors like online bullying or bad-mouthing employers and past/current coworkers,
- Criminal behaviors like fraud and cybercrime
And since cancel culture will persist in our everyday offline + digital society, the companies and their communities must actively shield themselves from being affected by it.
What if it’s already happening inside your company?
Canceling employees because of their comments or acts is a moral slippery slope. We can’t simply draw a line between an appropriate action by an employer (such as the hot stove rule) and suppressing free speech. And so, if someone’s already being canceled, there are moves to make & mitigate the harm:
- Clearing the air by getting everyone’s perspectives out in the open and encouraging constructive discussions,
- Having 1:1 with the canceled person,
- Using all available tools to monitor how the situation unfolds.
Finally, if all else fails, the called-out employee will be bound to look for a new job. If it comes to that, it’s crucial to schedule an exit interview and part ways amicably.
⚠️ If you are the one being canceled at your workplace, be sure to follow the first two steps.
Tips all brands must follow to dodge being canceled
So, we have covered the basic scenarios that involve employee ostracism, whether it was justified or just a “B.S. happens” type of thing, and Kanye West. Luckily, the first issue can be contained (and fixed) before the whole brand goes kaboom. The second one is a bit more Ye-ish. Anyway, if the public tries to cancel your brand, here’s what you must do:
- Be quick to find out about these unfavorable occurrences and plan a way out of them,
- Add some extra effort to more detailed market research and understand your target audience,
- Increase transparency and don’t go snatching other brands’ laurels to rest on; be genuine and open instead,
- Encourage your brand advocates to speak up and share their positive thoughts,
- Don’t try to hide from criticism, but respond to it.
Cancel culture has evolved into a highly politicized field (and so is the aura around it). Labels and firms that used to try to stay neutral now see that silence can be interpreted as a form of support for the inequality of the status quo. A prominent brand has a great reach and needs to decide about the best ways to use it because today’s consumers are well informed, and that information turns to power. And so, to secure support for a brand or a rebrand, honesty and transparency matter the most. Nothing is the worst thing to do, particularly when tossed in hot water.
So, if cancelation comes for you, don’t panic. Remember these five essential steps.
Famous brands that have faced cancel culture
❌ When the #BlackLivesMatter movement was at its peak, numerous brands were keen to declare themselves as allies, with marketing campaigns built around their devotion to racial equality. Nonetheless, this backfired for many. One example was Urban Outfitters, a brand that was instantly called out about its problematic past and probable links with cultural appropriation.
❌ Also, many former employees of various businesses persist in speaking out on discriminatory or racist experiences while working at specific companies. For instance, in 2020, Reformation became a cancelers’ target and pledged to change their organization after admitting their misdeeds.
❌ Another familiar cause for cancellation is the behavior of a keyboard member or stakeholder. And so, in 2011, GoDaddy’s founder Bob Parsons shot an African elephant and filmed himself posing with its body. The public uproar was immediate. And so, his unapologetic stance, tied with the company’s (already) disliked support for the Stop Online Piracy Act, made this hosting company lose 70,000 domains over the course of a single week. Finally, Bob Parsons left the board in 2018.
Cancel Culture in the business world: Wrap up
This tendency is not limited to a single ideology. That’s why all businesses need to be strict when needed and flexible at other times. Their responses to cancel culture have to be quick, smart, and well-calibrated. The actions should be based on the circumstances.
Still, if a single employee is being boycotted, it’s essential to clear the air and look into the real reasons for this potentially dangerous occurrence – internally. Trying to stay objective is tough, but it’s the only way to salvage the brand’s rep and its internal peace and harmony.