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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

how do managers feel about blogging employees?

In the comments on a recent post about blogging with your name attached to it, Andrew asks:

How would you feel, as a manager, if one of your employees kept a blog? I feel like you may be on the progressive side of the spectrum, so I'll follow up with: how do you think MOST managers feel about this issue? Is it an issue people should legitimately be worried about?

I think it totally depends -- mainly on what your blog is like, but also on your company and your manager.

For instance, I once learned that an employee was writing a blog that contained fairly extreme political positions. He was working on a state political campaign for us at the time. The blog had to go -- had it been discovered, it would have reflected on our campaign, despite the fact that he was doing it as a private individual, not as a campaign staffer.

That's an extreme example, but it makes the point: If there's any chance that your blog would reflect negatively on your employer if people knew you worked for them, any smart employer will have concerns.

Now, what kinds of things might raise concerns for them? In some environments, politics will. In almost all environments, sexually explicit content will. Glorification of drug and alcohol abuse. Complaining about your company, your boss, or your co-workers. Also, things that just make you look bad -- incoherent ramblings, for instance.

On the other hand, it's possible that your blog might reflect well on your employer and actually be seen as a bonus. For instance, I write my blog on my own, not as a representative of where I work, but it's nice for my employer to be able to say, "Alison writes a pretty well-received blog about management issues."

(Of course, if I were giving out horrid advice, that would be a different issue.)

Personally, I think the litmus test should be this: If your blog were for some reason featured in a company newsletter that got sent to all clients and staff, what would happen? If the answer is "boredom" or "acclaim," you're on the safer side. If the answer is "raised eyebrows," "offense," or "shame," you're in trouble.

But it's true that there are some managers who would be worried about anything that isn't, say, a cooking blog. If you work for one of those, stay anonymous.


Karen said...

This might be an obvious question, but I'll still throw it out there.

What if you had a blog with some strong political views that wasn't attached to your name? And somehow a boss came across it in another way? Is it still something that "has to go?"

Anonymous said...

How do MANAGERS feel about blogging employees?

I think the correct question is, How does the SUPREME COURT feel about blogging employees?

Freedom of expression is protected up to the point that it infringes upon other rights. So for example, if a blogger wrote about their employer's business strategy, that would affect their ability to business, and thus not be freedom of speech. If they wrote in am manner that suggested they were representing the views of their employer, that too, would not be freedom of speech.

But writing about your family or your hobby....completely protected.

And then of course there is the moral question of: what makes a manager think they have the right to monitor and judge ANY of their workers' activities during their free time, whether that activity is blogging or movie watching or cooking or knitting?

I have to say I'm pretty surprised by AAM's answer to this question. There seems to be no acknowledgement of worker's rights here.

Ask a Manager said...

Karen - Potentially, yes, a boss could still feel that way, figuring that if she could find it and know whose it was, so could someone else. But obviously the risk is lower.

Anonymous - The First Amendment protects speech from being censored by the government; it doesn't regulate what private entities can do. Assuming your employment is at-will (which is it for most people), employers can fire you for any reason at all, as long as it's not based on illegal discrimination.

Now, on the moral side of the question, that's a different matter. But there are plenty of cases where it would be reasonable for an employer to feel that an employee's off-duty activities did indeed impact the company. And plenty where it would be unreasonable. Which is why it depends on the content of your blog, as well as your company and manager.

Anonymous said...

This is an issue that has been discussed at my organization and my feelings are as such: if the blog (or post, or comment, or whatever it might be) is directly linked to the employer then the employer has a right to know about it and possibly restrict it. For example, if an employee blogs about their personal life and in that blog mentions their work, co-workers, employer or anything work related there could be issues for the employer, depending on what is being said. Things like “I work at XYZ company in the Accounting department and my manager is an incompetent idiot who is always screwing up” then the employer has the right to have an issue with that.

However, if the blog is not directly related to work or the employee makes efforts to not link their blog or opinions expressed in the blog as being those of their employer, and the blog is being written when the employee is not at work then I don’t see how the employer has any business dictating what the employee does.

Do they have the right to fire them for opinions express on their personal time? Probably. Should they? Probably not.

Just because an employer doesn’t share the personal opinions of an employee doesn’t necessarily give them the right to tell that employee how they should think, believe, or what they communicate to others. What an employer can do and what they should do are not always the same thing.

If an employee goes out to the bar on the weekend and makes a fool of himself does an employer have the right to fire them because it reflected badly on the employer, even if the employee was on his own time and not doing anything that is related to the employer? Does it matter if people at the bar know that the employee works for XYZ company when they see the employee acting the fool? Should it matter? At what point does an individual’s personal life become the business of their employer? You could say that everything an employee does reflects to some degree on their employer, even things that are done during an employee’s personal time. But do you really want to create policies that dictate what employees do on their personal time, and then police it? I wouldn’t.

Anonymous said...

The fact is, people HAVE been fired for their blogs, even when they weren't writing about work. There have been several well publicized cases of this.

The question wasn't, how should the world work. The question was, how DOES it work.

Unemployed Gal said...

I don’t think that this is a “company time vs. personal time” issue. It’s a private vs. public issue. If you’re a drunken jackass in your own home with your close friends, then it’s nobody’s business. However, if you’re a drunken jackass in a public bar, and anyone recognizes you and knows where you work, you just became an advertisement for your employer. Poor behavior in public shows poor judgment. Suppose the husband of your biggest client witnessed your behavior and told his wife that her account manager is a drunken, puking, obscene, beer-chugging idiot. Does she trust her money with you now? Is everyone at your company like this? Why don’t they hire responsible adults? You just lost your biggest client and damaged your company’s reputation. Your boss is right to punish you.

Of course, behavior is subjective. If you managed rock bands, that behavior would probably improve your reputation. Know the standards of your industry.

The same is true for blogs. Blogs are public, unless you keep yourself completely anonymous (which can be tricky). If you say something on your blog that offends your clients or just makes you appear stupid to your boss, it’s the same as the bar scenario. You may receive negative consequences for any public actions.

Learned My Lesson said...

I was actually just terminated for this very thing two weeks ago. I kept a blog to update some close friends on the goings-on of my life. The blog link was only sent to friends privately, but the blog itself was publicly searchable. I was always careful to keep things anonymous and not name names, but, in a lapse of judgment, I went to an event held by my organization and put the event's name in a blog post. I made some comments about the event that I still don't view as negative or derogatory, but my employer disagreed and I was fired.

Anonymous said...

Complaining about the company, boss, or other work conditions might be protected under NLRA as concerted activity if 2 or more employees are participating

Anonymous said...

This is where I'm conflicted. I think companies should leave employees alone - their down time is their time. Then there are employees that proudly post their employer on their page along with their emotions and wtf comments minute by minute for the whole world to see expecting privacy.

Anyway, jmho when you link/post your association (facebook, myspace, linkedin, pipl etc) to your employer online you represent them. Period.

Don't expect your employer to give you privacy when you dragged them in without their ok. And for Pete's sake don't b&m about them (with specifics!) online. It's rough enough managing 400 people in the office, I sure as hell don't want to do it 24/7/365 because Susie posted something at 4AM that Sammi thinks is about her, kwim?

You'll note I posted this ANON

btw 2nd Anon, the Supreme Court argument is a good one, however, the private sector usually deals in at will employment. They'll toss you like a bad nut if the ramblings on your page affect them. Don't look to me to say this is fair - I get creeped out when our background search goes looking online but common sense should be used online and in real life.

I don't know that there's a consistent answer for this question, it may vary by employer. But if you're blogging professionally, get the company nod. If you're blogging to read your own words be careful, someone you know (including your boss) may be reading them too.

Anonymous said...

Nearly every state has laws protecting the right of an individual to engage in legal activities during their own time. A few states don't, like Kentucky, whose law only protects the right to smoke--but even here, the courts have not upheld the prerogative of employers to supervise other legal activities conducted in the workers' free time and not on company premises, unless the employer can show a direct conflict with the employer's interests. Even illegal activity is protected to some degree--many states have laws that some criminal convictions may not be considered by employers.

It is a foolish employer who thinks they are entitled to more power than law enforcement--even they cannot monitor or surveil the activities of private citizens when no illegal activity is apparent.

Anonymous said...

"It is a foolish employer who thinks they are entitled to more power than law enforcement--even they cannot monitor or surveil the activities of private citizens when no illegal activity is apparent."

That's because the cops and the government have more restrictions on what they can/can't do than private employers do. Read the constitution....

Anonymous said...

The simple answer is that an employer can terminate an employee for any reason not legally protected, i.e. Title VII, ADA, etc. In an at-will employment relationship the employer doesn't even have to give a reason.

There is no freedom of speech protection for a private employer. If an employer decides it doesn't like what you wrote or the way you acted on your personal time they can fire you for it.

Is it fair? Nope. Is it legal? Probably. If you get fired for something you don't feel was right, sue them and take it to court. Personally I don't have the monetary resources for a long protracted court case, and most employees don’t, which is why so many of the unfair or borderline illegal practices employers have or commit go unchallenged.

Managers and HR shouldn’t just be concerned with what the company “can” do; they should be concerned with what the company “should” do. Of course, this will vary from one person’s integrity to another’s so even that is open for debate.

Anonymous said...

Note that the above comment does not say it is illegal to FIRE someone for private activities.

The comment states that it is illegal to SURVEIL. It is not the subsequent act of termination that is legislated but the preceding act of surveillance that is legislated--regardless of the purpose or intent of the surveillance.

This is an important distinction because if the law prohibits the act of surveilling a private citizen by an employer, it doesn't matter if they ever act on the evidence gathered. The employer doesn't have to terminate someone or reprimand them or pressure them to change their activities, for their acts to be illegal.

Surveillance laws are not necessarily employment laws.

Jonathan said...

I keep a blog about recruiting (and general HR-type stuff). In fact, you can go to it by clicking on my name! (/shameless plug)

My employer is very supportive. In fact, at the end of the year, it could be factored into my evaluation.

Naturally, this makes me more careful regarding topics I write about and information I disclose. If I started sharing company secrets (if I had any to share), I'm sure it would be frowned upon.

Casey Accord said...

I'm so glad to see this topic being discussed!

I don't necessarily think it's a free speech issue. It's more of a professionalism issue. Blogging, if done under your real name, has implications on your professional reputation. And whether you want it to or not, it will also reflect on the company you work for.

As Jonathan said, it can actually be a benefit to your professional standing. But you should respect your company enough to be upfront about it. When the "rules" are established early on, you can feel confident that what you're doing is perfectly acceptable. If your employer does not want you doing it, it's best to know up front. That way you don't put your energy into something that might ultimately get you fired.