Would you ever tell your employee what not to say?
One company put limits on what employees could talk about in the workplace, essentially banning many sensitive topics.
It led to praise, outcry, resignations and lots of banter outside the company.
Software company Basecamp CEO Jason Fried wrote in a company blog post: “No more societal and political discussions … ”
He said those types of conversations are “a major distraction. It saps our energy, and redirects our dialog toward dark places.”
But he didn’t deny employees opportunities to express their opinions completely.
Fried also encouraged employees to “continue these difficult discussions with willing colleagues on other systems,” and “exercise your right to activism and political engagement outside of work.”
What to ask ourselves
Some people loved it. Some hated it.
Either way, it presents communication questions for HR leaders everywhere:
- Can you ban what employees talk about?
- Is there a practical way to keep communication civil?
Yes, you can ban conversations about certain subjects. But you can’t expect that discussions won’t happen.
Employees are human, and they talk about things that matter to them. Conversation is one way they engage. They may not intentionally pursue sensitive subjects, but one comment leads to another.
For instance, and as one Basecamp employee questioned: What happens if I bring up my kids’ school and it leads to a chat about the elected school board? Is that then a political conversation?
Encourage better conversations
Generally, leaders have to be careful about limiting what employees discuss or how they communicate. The National Labor Relations Act protects some types of speech. At the same time, there’s no right to free speech in private workplaces. The First Amendment doesn’t apply there.
And practically speaking, employees don’t like to work where they’re micromanaged.
“Without diversity of thought, what do you have?” says Ryan Denehy, CEO of Electric.
Instead of telling employees what not to say, leaders want to encourage and give tips on how to have workplace conversations that are:
- Respectful. Take time to listen to and consider others’ views. Give them space and opportunities to share insights. Ask for clarification and data points to increase understanding – not to question others’ thinking.
- Calculated. It’s critical to control emotions when talking about sensitive subjects. Avoid impulsive or emotional responses. Try counting to five or 10 before responding.
- Timely. Most subjects and issues pass as others rise. Employees want to avoid rehashing things that can’t be changed. It wastes time, thought and goodwill.
- Fluid. Employees won’t likely solve the sensitive issues – such as the political and societal ones Basecamp banned – that come up. Sensitive issues aren’t clear cut. Employees want to accept where colleagues stand as much as they want to be respected for where they stand – especially as time and attitudes change.
- Agreeable. Recognize when you’re at a sticking point – and agree to disagree. It’s OK to have different views on issues. Its not OK to only see yours as the right one.