Criticizing employers and businesses online

The internet gives us another arena where we can divulge information about our lives, opinions on different subjects and day to day lives. We can also experience that friends, boyfriends, ex-something, family etc. does it for us, that they share information and pictures of us that we rather wish they didn’t.

We are just beginning to see some of the conflicts that arises between being an employee, having a private life and publicize opinions outside work, about work, friends and play. We spend eight hours every day at work and it’s a big part of our life, so there is no wonder that employees need to write about the workplace and experiences there. Except… very few people does this.

Photo from State Library and Archives of Florida:

Ole Irgens worked as an information manager in the largest Norwegian Bank, DNB Nor. He ended up leaving even though he has stated that it was voluntarily. We need people in steady jobs voicing opinions, even if they get heat for it. We have to be able to separate between work persona and private persona, online and in the flesh.

But, where is that line between work and private persona, anyway? People usually responds to work emails and calls in their spare/free time,  or work at home in the evening. The lines between job and home is blurring. If it show’s anything, it must be that we humans are multidimensional.

We can be an employee and a private person at the same time. Who would have thought?

A very good example of how the borders between work and private life blurs shows up on Facebook. If an employee calls in a sick day because he had a hangover and posted it on Facebook, can the employer fire him for it? Or what about when an Volvo employee was fired because he had a wall message “Out of this madhouse” on Facebook when he left work (which is funny, not incriminating). Or – what about when a person is badmouthing it’s company at a party? On Facebook I state what my work title is and where I work, but is any posting there representative of the company if I post about it there? I would say no, I represent myself.


If I say something about my company online,
I’m not a representative of the company because I work there,
but it lends my opinions weight.

Jill Walker Rettberg is an associate professor at the University of Bergen and has stated that the new rules of social conduct online limits the individuals freedom of speech. We have come to the place where a private person represent the company 24 hours a day. Is that okey?

I used to have the opinion that you don’t criticize your workplace online, not on facebook, not on blogs or any other media except through whatever channels you have at work. I’ve changed my mind. I would love it if people freely wrote things that were a disadvantage to their employee. Just as much as I would love it even more to hear about the great workplaces, events, the great bosses, happy customers etc.

When going into an interview, you don’t really know much about the workplace itself. There may be some questions that gives an indication, but a company will try to show itself from its best side, just like any other applicant. A company can call  up references on an applicant, but how many times have an applicant phoned up different employees in a company to find out what it’s like to work there? I certainly haven’t, and my (unstatistical) experience is that most workplaces is at best average in employee satisfaction. When an employee has been hired, they are considered property, a done deal. Customers on the other hand is very important, and few managers seem to understand that creating happy employees generates happy customers and more income.

Criticism is a double edged sword, there is constructive criticism and there’s taking things to a personal level. Never criticize a person with full name without letting the person approve of it beforehand (and have a chance to come with his/hers point of view). If some criticism is personal but not named,  let the person still have a say. It’s no fun to read about yourself. Don’t use name calling. But even if somebody goes to these lengths, does it really matter? I would say no, because whenever I read something like that, I can easily see what level that person is at and make my own judgement which usually is that it’s just one prism of truth and not the whole truth. I believe most people (but not all) are able to differentiate like that. The few people who don’t, shouldn’t set the bar on what to do and not.

Constructive criticism can be good source of information for a workplace to figure out it’s weaknesses that managers may not see, understand, know or even want to deal with. In one of the commercials for Undercover Boss in Norway, a manager states “finally somebody will tell me the truth”. It’s sad when a company and manager has to go undercover to get that information. It says more about the (lack of) information flow in that business, which he/she as a manager should put in place. Or may be something of the tone in the company if people don’t dare say what they really think.

Putting some criticism online will make sure that a company will have to deal with it. That’s a good thing. Manager’s should be evaluated by their subordinates. It takes a special kind of employee to tell his boss during a appraisal interview what his areas of improvements are, or even if he is fit for the job. Most likely the appraisal interview will only be put in a drawer (like all companies I have worked for), and just generate bad feelings between you and the boss.

Furthermore, it’s interesting information for potential employees, customers, you name it. But the thing is, if you can criticize it’s also important to write about the good stuff, what you like. And remember the golden rule: Don’t criticize unless you are able to receive criticism gracefully in return.

I would love to criticize my employers through the years, but I’m not so sure I would dare to do it. Having an opinion, is not the same as being able to follow through. In this I’m not so sure that being a forerunner is a good thing, there certainly enough episodes out there that entails caution. Especially since most businesses doesn’t have much of an understanding of social media, and what understanding will they then have for online criticism?

Take Octavia Nasr, a CNN Senior Editor of Mideast affairs, who was fired by CNN because she voiced a private opinion that wasn’t in line with the company’s on a subject she should be well knowledgeable about. It shouldn’t be like that. It’s perfectly okey for a company to say that they don’t support the view an employee has, but still keep the person employed. A journalist should be allowed to have opinions on a subject, just like ordinary people.

And ordinary people should be allowed to voice opinions of their workplace online.

About Haridasi

integrity - the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished.
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