This post will go against all conventional wisdom. Sometimes it’s the right thing to tell-all. Many of you will disagree, even a few of the writers on this site. Of course, there are pros and cons, as well as the long-term potential results of burning a few bridges.
Big businesses have decided for all of us that it’s politically incorrect to publicly share inappropriate transgressions in the work place. Corporate Lawyers with their confidentiality agreements have only piled onto the conversation. And expensive PR campaigns to smear anyone who pierces the veil of an organization’s employment brand should put whistle blowers on warning that you are the enemy.
We are all made afraid to share the truth. When we do step across this invisible line, we become victims instead of saviors…. So, we do it in anonymity on sites like Glassdoor that get slammed as gossip columns with no credibility.
I have personally lived through many inappropriate scenarios and even have a couple of legal agreements keeping me from “talking”. Almost every senior HR executive I know has too. And we perpetuate this horrible activity regularly in our jobs. Even worse, we have all applied these shut up agreements with pressure to outgoing employees to protect our respective organizations.
We shut up victims, sometimes with a lot of money, to avoid bad publicity and lawsuits…. How sad.
When word does occasionally leak, it is met with massive counter attacks by PR firms that have influence with the press. Sometimes board members, influential business leaders and even politicians get involved, although recently that is not the best strategy as most politicians are not in good graces. And of course the call from the corporate attorney reminding you that you signed on the dotted line.
Just a few examples include:
–When British Vogues’ Lucinda Chambers let it all loose against her former employer with a scathing conversation with the NY Times this past July.
–Then there’s former CNN anchor Soledad O’Brien who has taken aim at her former cable network on Twitter. In April, she called CNN’s choice of guests to talk about health care “embarrassing.”
–In 2012, trader Greg Smith resigned publicly from Goldman Sachs and alleged that five different managing directors referred to their own clients as “Muppets,” sometimes over internal email, and he wrote a scorching review of his time at the company for The New York Times as well. In fact it seems the Times and the Washington Post are at the leading edge of this type of reporting.
And then the political and PR spin starts, massive amounts of money go into the counter attack. Each and every situation mentioned, and countless others, all falling prey to the massive PR counter attacks.
Do you remember the movie “The Insider,” with Al Pacino playing Lowell Bergman and Russell Crowe as Jeffrey Wigand, the chemist turned informant? It was about Big Tobacco and how the CBS 60 minutes Television show balked on airing a tell-all because the lawsuit could have taken the Black Rock down. Wigand puts his life and family in peril to tell the truth. Big Tobacco had deep pockets and went to extremes in pushing back.
Yet we continue to take the wrong side in these issues. We are afraid to burn bridges. Even our own Tim Sackett weighed in recently on MarketWatch:
“It’s never a good idea to burn an employment bridge,” Sackett says, especially if you want to work in the same field. Burning bridges in a high-profile fashion can make headlines, but also make enemies. “Even if you know you’ll never go back to an employer, the chances of you running into another person from that company in your career path that will remember those words is pretty high. Also, most employers when interviewing a candidate will look down upon candidates who talk bad about their previous employer, co-workers, or their chosen profession in general.”
Tim makes a great argument….
So, if you’re an HR executive with accountability, what do you do when faced with the decision to protect your employer or do right for your employees?
I am consulting now so you can guess my answer, but how about you? I have crossed the line a couple of times and paid a price in doing so. Do you have the courage and fortitude to stand up and push back? Is it worth it?
This would make for great daytime TV talk show drama. Or maybe it might play better on late night cable like Bill Maher….IN FACT I WANT TO DO A PANEL ON THIS AT SOME HR CONFERENCES NEXT YEAR….any takers or volunteers? Do you have the fortitude to cross that line and join me?
In the short term, I will let you all chew on this one a little bit, but the clock is ticking….
Mark Fogel is best known for his HR with an Attitude. His background includes almost a decade and a half as CHRO at Leviton Mfg., The Marcum Group, and The Success Academy Charter School Network, as well as co-founding Human Capital 3.0, a boutique HR advisory firm. Mark has been honored by SHRM nationally as their Human Capital Leader of the Year in 2007, and by HR Executive Magazine as an Honor Roll recipient in 2010 and “Best HR Ideas” in 2012. His HR teams have garnished numerous national and local awards for HR innovation, wellness, and employee engagement. Mark speaks regularly at national conferences. He is also an Adjunct Professor at Adelphi’s Graduate School of Business.