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How Much Silence Does Your Paycheck Buy?

There has been a lot of chatter lately about the Ketchum/Twitter incident. To recap briefly, so you won’t click away, a Ketchum VP (Mr. Andrews) made a comment on a Twitter account that disparaged the city of Memphis where he had been speaking to FedEx’s corporate communications people.

One of the people at FedEx took great offense to the remark (which didn’t actually even mention Memphis) and shot a letter up the food chain to everyone he could think of in both companies. That missive resulted in embarrassment for Mr. Andrews, and his employer. Mr. Andrews, and his company at-large, apologized for the offense, and moved on.

But I haven’t.

I haven’t because I received a similar note recently complaining about something I had said via Twitter and making an artificial connection between my personal thoughts shared here and on Twitter, and my employer. That note has been churning in my head and when combined with the Ketchum incident makes me ask the question that became the title of this post.

My situation draws striking comparisons to the Ketchum incident. A comment was made not about the client, but about something completely unrelated. The comment had nothing to do with business, but was simply an expression of personal distaste. Yet the personal offense was not directed so much at my comments, but rather was used to conflate my personal opinion with business concerns – a bogus correlation.

In the FedEx/Ketchum case, it is apparent to me that the FedEx employee who wrote the memo had much deeper issues with Mr. Andrews. The end of his note summed up those issues nicely.

[m]any of my peers and I question the expense of paying Ketchum to produce the video open for today’s event; work that could have been achieved by internal, award-winning professionals with decades of experience in television production.

Additionally Mr. Andrews, with all due respect, to continue the context of your post; true confession: many of my peers and I don’t see much relevance between your presentation this morning and the work we do in Employee Communications.

It is apparent to me that the employee probably had no issues with Mr. Andrews comment at all, but had issues with he and his co-workers being minimized in favor of the large consulting firm. I get that, and I relate on many levels.

If this were about pride in his city, the FedEx employee could have simply e-mailed, or sent a DM to Mr. Andrews challenging his impression of Memphis and made the points he made elsewhere in his note.

I will admit the area around our airport is a bit of an eyesore, not without crime, prostitution, commercial decay, and a few potholes. But there is a major political, community, religious, and business effort underway, that includes FedEx, to transform that area. We’re hopeful that over time, our city will have a better “face” to present to visitors.

Instead, out of 350 words in his note, he spends just 59 directly addressing the comment, and 101 addressing his issues with the outside consultant’s services.

The note I received was rather similar in balance, though it spent far more time trying to justify a specious connection between comments on my personal accounts and my business function and less time on the heart of the issue – I had disparaged the sender’s friend.

In both cases, however, the sender played the role of bully. They felt they could intimidate by taking individual opinions and making it about the business. It’s the tactic of small-minded and weak-willed people to hide behind such things.

Yet all the words I have seen spilled about the Ketchum incident make that point that you must censor yourself to avoid embarrassment to your employer. You must never express a thought that you find some random city unsightly or depressing because that might offend.

Well, I call bullshit.

I think we must instead ridicule and call out the senders of such e-mails. I think we must cry out, at the top of our lungs, “YOU DO NOT HAVE A CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT TO NEVER BE OFFENDED!”

If my contract as a consultant offends you, register such complaints with your corporate management. If they continue to crap on you, then quit and find a job where your talents are recognized. Better yet, go into business for yourself and become the source of some other drone’s misery.

Let’s assume the toolbag at FedEx really does love Memphis, though. If you love your city, and I don’t, then demonstrate your commitment by challenging me publicly, don’t hide behind some corporate e-mail thread and claim nobility you sanctimonious little shit.

If I say your friend is a moron, and you disagree, then feel free to challenge me on that. Feel free to defend your friend on his merits rather than hiding behind some weak attempt to tie my opinions to my job.

Instead, however, too many people have chosen to play these stupid games. They acquiesce to the ridiculous notion that just because I accept a paycheck I must never say or do anything in my personal life that could be interpreted in any way as as somehow harming the corporation.

I disagree.

My paycheck earns my hard work, but it does not earn my every thought. I will have thoughts and beliefs on issues that have nothing to do with my job.

If that means I find a city unattractive and say so via my personal Twitter account, it is not the position of my employer. Hell, I’ve been through Memphis on a number of occasions. IT IS A SHITHOLE! Andrews was right. It may be where music was born, but it’s where pretty goes to die. The guy at FedEx needs to face that.

Finally, let me state clearly that I am an individual first, and a corporate employee second. I will not become the Borg just so some jackass in accounting can feel better about his miserable little life.

(The opinions expressed here are mine and mine alone and do not reflect the views of my employer. If you think they do, you’re a douche and you need to get a life.)

Written by Michael Turk