Recently, the CEO of a leading global technology company sent out an e-mail to all the employees, restricting them from posting opinions about the Ukraine – Russia war situation online. The decision to control employees’ right to express themselves is just another example of the rampant censuring of expression in big organisations.
Russia’s attack on Ukraine has affected millions of lives across the two countries, and disrupted world politics. As people latch onto the daily news for the latest updates, the Internet is facing a deluge of comments, stories and write-ups on the varied takes about the war and its consequences.
In any similar situation of danger and stress, the internet becomes a steaming brew of bad jokes, misinformed takes and extreme politics. Since everyone has a different opinion on things, it is natural for someone’s unsavoury comment to invite undeserved attention, not only to those posting the comments, but also others associated with them.
“Unless there is something that can impact their operations directly, or harm their business, I don’t think companies should be issuing directives to not post on Russia-Ukraine war on social media”
Dwarakanath P, former chairman, GSK Consumer Healthcare
Such opinions can even land people and organisations in trouble. In these times, when companies and brands invite criticism, or in internet parlance, even get ‘cancelled’ for their or their employees’ actions or comments, the ideal option may be to simply steer clear of any trouble altogether.
After all, who wishes to undergo the arduous process of suspending employees, issuing apologies and undertaking all kinds of penance when all that is required is to prevent employees from saying anything on social media?
Yes, precaution is definitely better than cure, but is prematurely silencing employees the best way to deal with a difficult future situation?
Debjani Roy, advisory CHRO, Mind Your Fleet, says that organisations have no right to restrain employees from voicing their opinions, especially in India, where Freedom of Expression is a fundamental right that allows every citizen to speak their mind.
“As long as organisations don’t issue such directives, they remain neutral. They don’t incur any unwelcome attention to themselves from third parties,” assures Roy. However, by trying to stop their employees from speaking, they not only spoil their image, but also lose this neutrality.
Employees working in such organisations would be uncomfortable with an order that tries to curb their freedom of speech. They would prefer to look for a job somewhere better, Roy warns.
“Employees consider whether they have expertise or full knowledge about the issues they’re talking about on social media”
Rajeev Singh, CHRO, Solara Active Pharma
Indeed, employees are likely to trust their workplace completely if they realise how their opinions are being controlled by the higher management. Organisations that seek to censor their employees can land in trouble because of such manipulative tactics.
Dwarakanath P, former chairman, GSK Consumer Healthcare, says, “Unless there is something that can impact their operations directly, or harm their business, I don’t think companies should be issuing such directives to their employees.”
While employees should remain careful not to pass statements or comments that could potentially ham them, their company or their country in anyway, it is also inappropriate for companies to issue blanket gag orders to silence them, enunciates Dwarakanath.
There have been few instances in the past, where organisations have come under heavy scrutiny because of the behaviour of their employees. When employees do or say something provocative that doesn’t go down easily with the public, it’s the organisations that face the incoming wrath and boycotts. To satisfy the public’s need for justice, and show that they take such issues seriously, these organisations end up having to fire their employees.
Rajeev Singh, CHRO, Solara Active Pharma, says, “Employees should also consider whether they have expertise or full knowledge about the issues they’re talking about.”
“Organisations have no right to restrain employees from voicing their opinions, especially in India, where Freedom of Expression is a fundamental right that allows every citizen to speak their mind”
Debjani Roy, advisory CHRO, Mind Your Fleet
Since companies never really encourage their employees to speak about matters outside the area of work, it is better to not engage in any sort of political discussions or debates unless approved by the higher management, he explains.
Organisations cannot put a muzzle on the mouth of their employees for fear of criticism and boycott.
A better way to deal with any possible ramifications would be to hold meetings where employees are free to express their views and discuss points of contention. No company is ever going to win favour by censuring employees. Any action to stop them from expressing themselves may do more harm to their overall position than they can imagine.