Blogging and work

So there’s a certain very dumb attitude that employers can take toward blogging. Something like: “First of all, don’t do it — blogs are bad! Secondly, if you’re stupid enough to blog and you ever mention your job (even in a positive way), then you may well be shitcanned without warning!”.

I’ve been one degree of separation away from this kind of stupidity, and I’ve had it materially impact my family, and you can take it as read that I’m not a fan. Blogging is here, it’s here, and it’s not going shopping. People are going to blog about their lives, and their lives include work, and so they’re going to want to blog about work too.

Also, companies can benefit in unexpected ways from this new channel, and from not trying to muzzle, censor, or fire their blogging employees. First of all, simply being known as an employer that doesn’t have as its very first priority muzzling, censoring or firing its employees might well be helpful from a recruiting point of view. Secondly, if the company in question is, in fact a cool place to work, people might get a sense of this from the energized employee-blogger who blogs excitedly about the cool stuff that’s they’re working on. Finally (beyond recruiting), having employees talk about their employer broadens awareness of that company and, as they say, “every kick’s a boost”.

So let’s try to agree on that much: It is short-sighted (and also ethically problematic, I think) for companies to clamp down on employee-bloggers just because they can. Now, on to where we will maybe disagree….

Imagine that company X has three different employees (all of whom are engineers, who spend their work days writing code):

o Joe spends his weekends mountain-biking, watching TV, and hanging out with his kids

o Jerry spends his weekends … writing code, on just-for-fun geek projects unrelated to work (and then blogs about that, but never mentions work)

o James (an A-list blogger) spends his weekends blogging, in part about his day job and his employer.

Now, what attitude should our employer take toward the weekends of Joe, Jerry, and James? We’d all agree, I think, that Joe’s leisure-time pursuits are none of the employer’s business. Similar logic would tell us, I hope, that Jerry’s coding weekends are none of the employer’s business either. (Some employers might have to resist the reaction of thinking the following: Recharging on the weekend with a hobby is fine, because you’ll come back to work refreshed, but if you’re writing code, why aren’t you doing it for us? But let’s assume that the resistance is successful.)

Finally, with regard to James (the A-list blogger), the employer might think something like: “Hey, in addition to all the work James does for us during the week, he’s also this very visible and mostly-pro-company presence out on the blogosphere. We need to retain James — let’s give him a promotion and a raise!”

Now, what I’d like to ask at this point is: is James’s blogging still a leisure-time activity, on par with mountain-biking and solo hacking? Is the company obligated to have no opinion about the blog’s contents?

Then, let’s say that the following year James either 1) stops blogging, or 2) blogs in a consistently negative way about the company, and the company begins to feel that the benefit of the blog for them is illusory. Would it be reasonable to a) not give James a raise, or even b) fire James, because the hoped-for benefit to the company of James’s employment was not realized? (By “reasonable”, by the way, I don’t mean anything having to do with employment law, as I am not a lawyer, and am not looking for the legal answer. I mean reasonable in the same sense that the stupid kind of firing mentioned at the top seems unreasonable (even though it is probably legal in a “at-will” sense).)

I don’t know what I think the answer should be — even if there are no ambiguities in the law, I feel like the norms are still being worked out. But I doubt that when a consensus arrives, it will be quite as simplistic as “My blog is none of your business”….

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