Employees & Their Freedom of Speech

Having an opinion and expressing it to a massive audience has never been easier in this age. Americans have always had the freedom of speech, but often times what people share isn’t always positive. Every media known to man has become crowded with loud voices with even louder and salacious opinions.

If you had to pinpoint a turning point, it was perhaps the launch of CNN in June of 1980. Prior to CNN, news programming delivered relatively factual information for an hour or two a day. Although it was an amazing accomplishment to cover events live as they happened and to have an endless stream of information, it created a demand for opinion. How else would you fill 24 hours of news 365 days per year… MORE OPINIONS!

By the mid-1990s, the abundance of accessibility for opinions skyrocketed with the growth of easy-to-use web browsers. As of 2022, Facebook and Twitter have more than 3 billion monthly active users combined, all with people sharing their opinions.

Today, we talk about the role companies should play when it comes to freedom of speech and their employees. Should companies enforce a social media/internet policy or should they be relaxed? Let’s find out!

The Issue

Most hiring managers are quite savvy when researching potential new hires. They’ll google your name and find your social feeds all in an effort to disqualify or qualify you in the hiring process.

Consider the ramifications of a top, talented executive researching whether or not to interview with your organization and seeing what to them is a controversial article shared by an employee within the firm. Consider one of your key accounts, someone who has done business with your organization for years, distancing themselves based on a persistent string of what they perceive to be annoying comments online.

This is not limited purely to social media either! Consider the consequences of a potential client reviewing your firm and your website making them feel like their business may not be welcomed at your firm because of differing beliefs.

In other words, we are not required to take responsibility for the feelings and reactions of others, but we should take responsibility for being the catalyst for those feelings and actions.

Regulating Social Media

This does not mean that individuals should not have the ability to express freedom of speech, and of course, great things have come from it. The challenge is: Who is to say what is appropriate and what is not? Is that really the responsibility of senior leadership and human resources to balance the potential damage to a company’s image and reputation against their desire to foster a supportive workforce that doesn’t micromanage the actions of every employee?

In some extreme examples, termination over controversial behavior could be easily rationalized. In others, it does not require malice of forethought to make prospective candidates, clients, or other employees feel uncomfortable.

The best thing a company can do is to establish some type of social media/internet policy that is clear in what is appropriate or not appropriate as an employee of the company.

Employees, some questions you can ask yourself to prevent a headache down the line are:

  • Is what I am about to share positive or negative in nature?
    • If negative, what is my desired outcome?
    • If positive, what audience might still have a differing opinion, and am I okay with that audience feeling alienated?
  • When entering into an online debate, ask yourself: how often has a similar form of communication changed your opinion? Likely answer: never.
  • Would I be comfortable voicing this opinion to someone in person, or would I adjust my message or tone if I was discussing this face-to-face with an individual?
  • Insert the opposite perspective or belief; how would you feel if you read it online from a vendor? Would you question if you want to continue working with that client?
  • Is the post worth it?

The Education

In many organizations, focused training on understanding multiple perspectives is limited. This skill is about authentically learning about others and better understanding their point of view on a specific topic or situation. The ultimate goal is to consciously and genuinely listen to the perspective of others and see it simply as a perspective, nothing more or less.

As a leader, consider operating by the Platinum Rule: “Treat others the way they want to be treated.” The Platinum Rule accommodates the desires of others, and shifts the focus from “this is what I would want, so I will treat everyone the same way” to “let me first understand what matters to this individual, and I’ll figure out a way to give it to them.” Operating from the Platinum Rule doesn’t require leaders to change who they are, it requires an understanding of what drives people and recognizing the options for interacting with them.

People do what they do because of them more than because of us. Widening our perspective can increase awareness and social sensitivity.

So the takeaways:

  1. The ability to share your opinion with many individuals is easier than ever before
  2. Companies are researching you before AND during the interview process
  3. Realize a prospective employer or current employer might see anything you post online, so weigh the pros and cons before you post
  4. Companies should educate and train employees to recognize other perspectives and practice tolerance
  5. Companies should create clear and concise social media/internet policies for their employees

About Top Talent

With over 90 years of Logistics experience, Top Talent is a recognized leader in Talent Acquisition for Logistics, Transportation, and Supply Chain. Let us put our team to work for you. To learn more about successful strategies for getting those impact players and game-changers on your team, reach out to us today.

– Michael Monson
President and CEO
Top Talent LLC
Email: michael@toptalentllc.com