Every Employer should have a plan managing Cancel Culture


Cancel culture has become so widespread that no individuals or organisations can steer clear from it. One example in Hong Kong involved Jo Lam, an influencer, who was fired by Prudential for inappropriate social media comments about a murder case. Companies that hesitate to remove ‘problematic’ individuals risk facing public backlash. Job candidates’ social media accounts are also increasingly scrutinized by hiring managers before the they were even shortlisted.


What is Cancel Culture?

Cancel culture involves ostracizing, boycotting or shunning public figures who have engaged in unacceptable behaviour or speech. The word ‘cancel’ has its roots in black culture and the civil rights boycott movements of the 1950s. The practice of it in the cyberworld could be traced back to China’s ‘human flesh search’, where netizens came together to reveal social injustices. One infamous case was the ‘kitten-killer’ incident, where the amateur online detectives identified and tracked down a woman who had cruelly killed a kitten. As a result, the woman faced public humiliation and was being fired from her job.


While cancel culture can be a tool for social justice where legal or existing structure seems futile, it can also become a mob rule that stifles freedom of speech, leading to a divisive and hostile society. 


Challenges in the Workplace

  1. Erosion of Free Speech: Cancel culture in the workplace can discourage open expression of opinions, hindering constructive dialogue, creativity and innovation.
  2. Reputation Damage: Companies can fall victim to cancel culture resulting in lost customers, partners, and talents. A recent example is Balenciaga’s Ad Scandal in 2022 that sparks off a big fall out —celebrities eschewed, awards being rescinded and storefront being defaced.
  3. Lack of Due Process: Cancel culture often bypass due process and the subject in question is often presumed guilty.
  4. Missed out on Talents: Talents could resign or being let go because of mishaps or inappropriate remarks unrelated to their professionalism. Employers making hiring decisions based on job applicants’ social media presence might also succumb to stereotypes and miss out on the top talent.


Managing Cancel Culture

Cancel culture can spiral out of control in no time, so keeping it at bay is the rule of thumb. When it unfortunately happens, it reveals deep-seated issues like an imbalance of power, a lack of transparency or due process to manage misbehaviours.


Companies can survive the cancel culture era with these concrete measures to balance diversity, inclusion and accountability while protecting free speech and the principles of due process:


  1. Promote Open Dialogue
  • Create safe spaces for employees to voice out their concerns without fear of retribution.
  • Provide social diversity training to foster a culture of respect and empathy.


  1. Develop Clear Social Media Policies
  • Clearly define company policies regarding employees’ use of social media — to protect employees’ right to express opinion outside of work, but also making it clear that discriminatory or hateful speech will not be tolerated.
  • Provide training on online etiquette to employees emphasizing civility and sensitivity in their online interactions.


  1. Embrace Transparency
  • Foster a transparent organizational culture by communicating with employees about the company’s stance on important issues.
  • Accusations should be investigated promptly, fairly, and objectively to stomp out embers before it burns the forest.
  • Hold employees accountable for their actions and statements regardless of the employee’s position within the company.
  • Provide opportunity for company staff, regardless of their positions, to make amends.
  • Actively engage employees in the company’s decision-making process.


  1. Prepare Crisis Management Plans
  • Develop crisis management plans to address potential cancel culture incidents. Draw out guidelines on handling public relations, protecting company’s reputation and supporting affected employees.
  • Draw up a list of external resources such as legal experts, mediators, and PR companies to be consulted when crises arise.

Success: You have successfully subscribed to the newsletter

Subscribe To Our Newsletter


Find Us