In addition to the formal structure and practices, all organizations also live and function on informal levels, with tacit rules and power relations. The informal reality introduces quite a challenge for supervisors, especially in multicultural work places. Managers must develop both strong cultural sensitivity and personal skills and courage to notice and also address interpersonal tensions, games, cliques, and disruptive communication including micro messages.
More than previously, employees (including managers) are dealing with rapid changes that may be in conflict with the formal organizational structures and their role division. In the midst of this ambiguity, people's daily lives tend to be colored by worry about their personal situation and their future. In this environment, and especially when employment is insecure, managing personal support networks becomes a question of survival, sometimes more important than job performance itself.
The unemployment statistics indicate who are the most vulnerable groups in terms of job security: minorities of all types, aging and very young employees, people with health issues and disabilities, and parents/potential parents of small children. Immigrants from distant cultures, however, seem to be at the greatest disadvantage. They do not know the tacit work-place norms and traditional ways of acting, and they cannot interpret the weak signals. In a foreign environment, they act solely upon the formal instructions and therefore misinterpret the emerging reality, sliding quickly to the out-group.
A good supervisor is able to identify the informal organization and make it visible to the community. S/he has the courage to look below the surface and read between the lines. S/he adheres to justice and sets equally high standards to others as well, does not close her/his eyes and ears when noticing tensions or cliques between people. A good supervisor also dares to ask directly one-on-one, and collectively if necessary, what is going on.
Existing often between the formal and informal organizations, the social media is strengthening its role, and has in many companies been officially established in many functions, such as marketing. In the area of HRM, social media has become increasingly important in recruitment and employer branding, but also in staff and retiree interaction. In most cases, communication is positive and appropriate but social media can also be used for destructive aims, such as harassment or discrimination, building in- and out-groups. Especially, the potential opportunity for anonymous communication opens the door for abuse that easily gets out of hand even when started as a joke. In many cultures, losing one's face puts a permanent shame on the person, which is often impossible to fix. Therefore, every supervisor, every manager has to be attentive and ready to take corrective action as necessary.
These are the moments when the supervisor has to stand up and address the behavior face-to-face, clear and loud, and set zero-tolerance standards to the entire community.