May I complain about my job publicly?
[Clarification: While written in the first person, this article bears no connection to my current employer. In an effort to tell the story in a manner that would engage the reader, I took some literary license in relating the tale of a disgruntled employee at wits end and the danger of taking to the Internet to vent one’s frustrations.]
Why shouldn’t I be able to show public dissatisfaction for my employer on Facebook or Twitter?
If I don’t like how the government is being run, I voice my need for change with my votes.
If I don’t like the way my football team is being run, I voice my need for change with my wallet.
If I don’t like changes to how my favorite piece of apparel is made, I voice my need for change by returning it.
However, if I don’t like the way my employer is running the company, where may I voice my need for change?
You might suggest, well Mike, did you tell your bosses that you’re dissatisfied with the manner in which they’re handling the company. Yup. Apparently, I was wrong. Silly me. I thought I was a pretty bright guy.
Now you may say, Mike, just get a new job. Right, because in this economy new job opportunities are aplenty. Especially for mid-career types like myself. That’s where the glut of the employed are and where there are the least opportunities.
The power of the people.
We have First Amendment rights in this country. Theoretically, I should be able to say just about anything, short of slander and libel or yelling “fire” in a crowded theater, without legal repercussions.
Unfortunately, most employers tend to disagree with that notion. Typically, in your contract or in the employee code of conduct policy, employers have you sign that you will not publicly denigrate the company while employed by said company.
Here’s where I have a problem with that, it’s a matter of transparency. A transparent company knows it can’t hide it’s mistakes, so the key is to make correct decisions, as opposed to trying to hide bad ones. A company that doesn’t restrict its employees from mentioning the company on their personal Internet pages knows that it’s going to have to keep the morale bar pretty high. Employees don’t need buckets of money or time-off to stay happy, generally they just need to know they’re working for an honest company that has their best interests, as well as the interest of the bottom-line, at heart.
Also, employees are the best marketing tool a company has in its public relations toolbox. Enthused employees let people know they work for a great company and create a great product. Have you ever met an employee at Pixar Animation Studios? I swear they’re the happiest people I’ve ever met. Pixar takes care of them and in return, they bust their collective butts for Pixar. Now, I don’t expect every company to take care of their people the way Pixar does, but I assure you, there are lessons to be learned and ideas to be adopted for any size company.
Obviously, issues of slander or libel need to be dealt with, as does any issues related to divulging intellectual property. If you work for Dr. Pepper, you’re not allowed to publicize what the 23 flavors consist of, but you should be able to vent if a poor decision leads to mass layoffs.
For instance, if you work for Research in Motion, you should be able to mention that it would be nice if their Blackberry Storm didn’t feel like a tinker toy. If you work for Apple, feel free to point out that style shouldn’t always take a back seat to function. If you work for the IRS, feel free to suggest a flat tax might be more beneficial than the swiss cheese of the current Federal Tax Code.
Of course, it’s easy for me to say “feel free.” You’re the one who’ll be getting canned, not me. Sadly, while I like to tilt at windmills, I do know better. It’s probably not in your best interests to eviscerate your employer when they screw up royally or screw you specifically. Why? It’s more than likely you don’t know the whole story. Unless you’re a member of the inner sanctum, you probably don’t have all the facts. So while it may feel great in the moment to publicly unload all over your employer, you may very well come off as nothing more than a raging neophyte. You don’t want to look like Christine O’Donnell, do you? All bluster and no back-up?
Here’s my suggestion if you plan to fire up Facebook or Twitter and unleash 140 characters of whoopass on your employer – be right, be fair, and be prepared for life without a paycheck. They might not find out, they might not care, but if they do, your name and picture will be right next to your Shakespearian rant.
- Mike Leach Sues ESPN For Slander, Libel (huffingtonpost.com)
- Employment Dismissal for Casual Remarks in Facebook (socyberty.com)
- How to Maintain Your Personal Brand as a Corporate Employee (smashingmagazine.com)
- What It Takes to Be a Great Employer (blogs.hbr.org)