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Freedom of Speech and Employee Alignment; How can a business promote both?

06Sep Posted by Ben Rothschild

Freedom of speech is an inalienable right of everyone, as set out in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

However, freedom of speech doesn’t necessarily mean that an employee can say whatever they want – as shown in the Google diversity memo penned by computer engineer James Damore, who criticised the affirmative action policies that Google uses. He was subsequently fired.

This showcases a clear problem – how can companies align employees’ values without prohibiting freedom of speech?

Understandably, businesses want employees to “buy in” to the workplace culture. Employees are ambassadors of the brand and must demonstrate (and align with) it on a daily basis.

It also appears that companies are setting more specific guidelines on how they want their employees to behave. For instance, Facebook’s five core values appear on their career page (i.e. – before someone has even applied for a job); “be bold,” “focus on impact,” “move fast,” “be open,” and “build social value.” Having a strong brand identity has become increasingly important in differentiating organisations, which could well have led to stricter guidelines.

Despite this, companies don’t want their employees to be ‘robots’, so the trick is in finding find the ‘sweet-spot’ between the employer’s ethos and the personalities of the employees. It’s a fine balance, but if they can find it, they should be able to match employee engagement with outstanding performance.

It is also important that employers create workplaces that enable employees to hold opinions contrary to the “norm” (in many cases actually a smaller, more vocal, minority) to ensure that different mind-sets, talents and backgrounds are able to contribute to the growth and prosperity of a business, and feel comfortable doing so.

At Sermelo we believe that as long as an employee aligns with our broader values of professionalism, a commitment to excellence, and is dedicated to building strong relationships with our clients, they should be allowed to express differing beliefs. In fact, in the office, we often have interesting socio/economic/political debates!

Businesses can ensure that employees’ freedom of speech is respected, and even valued through a variety of actions:

  • Encourage open communication in the work-place – differing opinions and ways of thinking can lead to advantages for businesses
  • When hiring, look for people with different backgrounds, political and social beliefs that may even challenge some of the existing workforce.
  • Aim to create a ‘flatter’ work-place structure – employees need to feel comfortable to criticise ideas or suggestions of senior staff, and have concerns explained

Looking specifically within the field of communications, we believe that a diverse mix of dynamic and creative people is required, to match the diverse nature of clients. We know that in order to better understand our clients we need a range of viewpoints within the company - to give us that vital perspective. At Sermelo we will always respect the need for our employees to speak their mind and engage in meaningful discussion, as we know that preventing a ‘monoculture’ from forming can only be of benefit to our clients.


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