Saturday, 6 September 2014

Thoughtcrime must not go unpunished

Universities and colleges may, equally, encounter high performing employees who, although academically brilliant, have the potential to damage their employer’s brand. This could be through outspoken opinion or general insubordination. Irrespective of how potentially valuable these employees may be to their institutions, the reality is that, in consistently accepting unacceptable behaviour, institutions may be setting dangerous precedents to other employees that such conduct will be accommodated. From a risk perspective, it is also much harder to justify a dismissal, or other sanction, if similar conduct has gone unpunished before.

As much as employers may hope that unacceptable behaviour from key employees will be curbed without sanction, in reality the problems will persist, needing to be addressed further down the line. It remains to be seen whether Suarez is right when he says that he will never bite another player again, but he has made similar statements before. 
David Browne, writing on law firm SGH Martineau's corporate blog, as quoted here.

You heard that right - according to today's managerialist ideology, the 'insubordination' of daring to have independent opinions that that don't fit in with your employers' carefully-curated corporate brand image is a bizarre, pathological aberration, just like footballer Luis Suarez's weird compulsion to keep biting opposing players.

Remember that the employees Browne's talking about here are valued, capable ones in reasonably high-status occupations, working in institutions which ostensibly nurture enquiry, debate and questioning. Imagine what it's like for people who work in the sort of places where 'we don't pay you to think.' Browne just validated Nick Cohen's sobering observation that 'the moment you enter your place of work, you no longer reside within a governed democracy, but instead are enslaved to a systematic dictatorship.'

In a less screwed-up world, David Browne, would be in massive trouble with his bosses for irreparably damaging his firm's brand* in the minds of all reasonable people by blogging this astonishing attack on freedom of speech on the firm's website. After all, a reasonable reader would conclude that any firm which endorsed such views, must have a sinister, authoritarian, bullying ethos and would have no qualms about advising bosses to use legal threats and sackings to punish thoughtcrime.

In the topsy-turvey times we live in, Browne was able to get away with merely 'clarifying' his comments in response to the justified twitterstorm that his horrific blogpost provoked. A key passage of the "clarified" post reads thusly:
This [brand-damaging behaviour] could be through outspoken opinions (where these fall outside the lawful exercise of academic freedom or freedom of speech more widely) or general insubordination, e.g. a failure to comply with the reasonable requests of an employer, or other behaviour such as bullying or harassment of colleagues.
So, there you have it - you can open your mouth, but if you upset your bosses, they and their corporate lawyers might be alert for anything that might be construed to fall 'outside the lawful exercise of academic freedom or freedom of speech more widely' and won't hesitate to use it to get you sacked (see "chilling effect"). Plus you get a lecture on bullying and harassment from more powerful people who think it's fine to push uppity subordinates out of a job for daring to speak out of line.

Thank you for sharing your opinions and clarifications, Mr Browne. They have been duly noted. Now bite me, weasel boy.

*You owe me for one broken irony meter, Browne.