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Thoughts on freedom in the workplace

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in Office Communication,Workplace Communication

by Mike Clark-Madison

I saw an article recently from a New Jersey paper that left my head shaking after reading the following: "Workers can be fired or reprimanded for sharing their opinions with co-workers, customers or the public, raising the question: Whatever happened to the freedom of speech?"

Seriously. They want to know. It appears to be revelatory to the reporter that private employers can regulate the conduct of their employees in their workplaces on their dime. CBS can fire Jersey's own Don Imus for saying stupid and horrible things, and so can the manager at the Quick-Sak. Now, whether employers should be speech police is a whole different matter--sometimes circumstances absolutely demand it, and sometimes it's a really counterproductive approach. But the fact that they can (with very few exceptions) regulate employees' on-the-job speech seems as obvious as the blueness of the sky.

Is this common-sense notion not so common anymore? We see the same dynamic with employee privacy and Internet use; some people really don't get that the computer belongs to the enterprise and that you, as a manager, get to control what workers do with it. In that case, the technology is so pervasive and has boomed so rapidly that it's impossible to regulate all employee Internet use. So the resulting tolerance for personal use has blurred the lines about what is and isn't a "right."

Maybe this is spilling over into other areas of workplace life as well. Or maybe employees are simply bringing new expectations to their jobs. Compared with years past, the percentage of Americans--of all ages, genders, and ethnic backgrounds--who are part of the workforce is much higher. The workplace is where most Americans spend most of their time. If rights guaranteed to us as citizens are nonexistent in the workplace, people will start to notice and complain.





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