Business Leaders Sign Letter to Top Officials

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Fifty CEOs and business school leaders signed a letter to President Trump and other top-ranking politicians urging action to allow for more international applications. The letter comes after a report by the Graduate Management Admissions Council showing declining applications.

Report conclusions follow:

[A]llowing top talent to study and work in the country of their choice helps create jobs, not take them. It offers insight into changing trends for historically talent-attracting and talent-supplying countries. Business school applications are a powerful metric—and forecast—of the success of individual economies in prioritizing talent and therefore leading innovation and growth. A survey of these latest metrics shows change in our midst—and for certain economies, warning signs for the future.

In their letter, the business leaders write that the U.S. is “needlessly capping our growth and can do better.” They urge U.S. politicians to allow more movement by taking the following action:

  • Removing “per-country” visa caps, modernizing our visa processing system, and reforming the H-1B visa program to make it possible for the most talented people to have a reasonable chance of gaining entry to the United States.

  • Creating a “heartland” visa that encourages immigration to the regions of the United States that could most use the vitality of these talented individuals.

Discussion:

  • Analyze the letter. Who are the primary and secondary audiences? What are the communication objectives? How do you assess the organization and writing style?

  • What persuasive communication strategies do the writers use? Which are most and least effective?

  • Analyze the report using the same questions.

  • How well does the infographic summarize the report conclusions? What could be improved?

Reciprocity in the News

Students of persuasion likely learned about reciprocity. In my class, we discuss reciprocity as a logical reasoning type and as one of Cialdini’s six principles of persuasion. We also talk about quid pro quo, meaning “this for that,” as a type of sexual harassment.

Steven Pinker, a cognitive scientist at Harvard, wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times titled, “A Linguist’s Guide to Quid Pro Quo,” referring to the discussions between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

President Trump and his supporters have gone to the heart of the issue, denying any quid pro quo. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina tweeted, “What a nothing (non-quid pro quo) burger.” Defenders also say that this type of reciprocity is common for political leaders.

Pinker believes that an explicit “if,” “then” construction isn’t necessary for a quid pro quo agreement:

It’s true that the transcript of the reconstructed conversation does not reveal a smoking sentence with an “if” and a “then.” But to most readers, Mr. Trump’s claim that he was merely musing about his druthers does not pass the giggle test. That is because people in a social relationship rarely hammer out a deal in so many words but veil their offers in politeness and innuendo, counting on their hearers to listen between the lines.

More typically, we see politeness in reciprocal transactions. During the call, President Trump said, “I would like you to do us a favor though.”

This article also raises issues about a “transcript,” which he describes as a reconstructed conversation. The summary isn’t verbatim, and it’s unclear whether a recording exist.

Discussion:

  • Describe reciprocity as a method of influence. What is the value to business relationships, and what dangers should be avoided?

  • Talk about a time when you practiced reciprocity, but it felt imbalanced—either for you or for the other person? How did it feel? How can avoid this in the future?

  • In this case, do you think President Trump crossed a line, or do you believe his statement, “There was no quid pro quo”?

Tips for Managing Email

My colleague at Cornell, Andrew Quagliata, offers helpful tips for those of us who struggle with managing our daily email:

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  • Don’t check your email immediately after you wake up.

  • Don’t begin the workday with email.

  • Open your email applications only during designated times.

  • Turn off notifications.

  • Move emails out of your inbox after you read them.

  • Filter messages.

  • Establish a priority framework for responding.

  • Use signatures for common responses.

  • Send fewer emails.

Read more about Prof. Quagliata’s advice on his blog—and you might find more helpful ideas.

Typing image source.

Gmail image source.

Discussion:

  • Which of these tips do you find most useful? Which have you tried before, and which are new for you to consider?

  • What tools for managing email have you used and found helpful or unhelpful?

LeBron James Enters the Tweet Debate

As the NBA struggles to recover after Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey tweeted in support of Hong Kong protesters, LeBron James questioned Morey’s choice:

Yes, we all do have freedom of speech. But, at times, there are ramifications for the negative that can happen when you’re not thinking about others, when you’re only thinking about yourself. . . . I believe he wasn’t educated on the situation at hand, and he spoke. And so many people could have been harmed, not only financially, but physically, emotionally, spiritually. So just be careful. . . .”

The Wall Street Journal reports that people were “stunned” by his comment because James is typically careful about his public comments.

Discussion:

  • What’s your view of James’ commenting on the situation? Should he have avoided commenting? Why or why not?

  • What’s your view of his comments? How well did he handle the situation?

  • What leadership character dimensions are illustrated by James’ comments?

NBA Tweetstorm

The NBA is thrust into a political quagmire after Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted in support of the Hong Kong protesters: '“Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.” The tweet has since been deleted.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is dancing a line between protecting Morey’s free speech and staving off China’s backlash. Critics say the league is driven by profit instead of principle. He has tried to clarify his position:

“It is inevitable that people around the world — including from America and China — will have different viewpoints over different issues. It is not the role of the NBA to adjudicate those differences. However, the NBA will not put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees and team owners say or will not say on these issues. We simply could not operate that way.”

At this point, The Wall Street Journal reports better news:

“The situation appears to have de-escalated. After a week of blistering anti-NBA rhetoric in Chinese media, the government is signaling that it’s time to cool it, a message that includes the vitriol directed at the Rockets, according to one person familiar with the situation.”

But the Journal also acknowledges: “China’s love affair with the Rockets might not be the same again.”

Discussion:

  • Should Morey have avoided sending the tweet? Why or why not?

  • How do you assess the league’s response to the situation?

  • Analyze Silver’s news conference. What did he do well, and what could he have done differently?

Layoffs Planned at WeWork

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After a failed IPO and questions about its leadership and financials, WeWork is planning to downsize. New co-CEOs Artie Minson and Sebastian Gunningham warned employees to expect layoffs but said they will be handled “humanely.”

The new leadership had already prepared employees: "While we anticipate difficult decisions ahead, each decision will be made with rigorous analysis, always bearing in mind the company's long-term interest and health." The new information gives employees a better sense of what will come.

But news stories aren’t consistent. Fortune reports 2,000 layoffs or about 16% of WeWork employees affected, while Dice reports 5,000. Dice acknowledges differences in reporting.

Affected employees could be in business segments that will be spun off, so they may still have a job. WeWork may try to sell Meetup, Managed by Q, and Conductor brands.

Discussion:

  • Assess WeWork’s communications to employees so far. Even if the percentage were clear, the number of layoffs may change. Are the new leaders doing the right thing in giving an estimate now?

  • Employees know layoffs are coming “soon.” Should they have more specific dates? Consider whether this is a good idea.






https://fortune.com/2019/09/25/wework-new-ceos-memo-employees/


WeWork: "Humbler"

Several articles in the past few weeks have scolded WeWork CEO Adam Neumann and the investors who followed his story.

The Wall Street Journal was the first to describe Neumann’s odd behavior and published another article, “WeWork Investors Turned Off by ‘Sloppy’ IPO Filings.” The recent article explains one problem in the filings (shown below):

“A section headed ‘illustrative annual economics’ that assumed 100% workstation utilization vanished, for example, as did two graphs portraying a typical location going from ‘-$’ to ‘+$,’ with no y-axis showing the actual dollar amounts being depicted.”

A New York Times article, “Was WeWork Ever Going to Work?” criticizes investors for missing obvious problems with the company’s initial business plan, such as the reliance on start-up revenue when most entrepreneurial ventures fail. According to this report, it took people finally looking at the data to realize how much We is losing and how hard it will be for the company to succeed.

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The article includes other examples of investors’ blind exuberance:

“It is not merely money that separates the ruling class from the rest of the country. Often it seems as if it is the gaping difference in the application of common sense. Ultimately, it was the bankers, technocrats, statesmen and acolytes of the data-junkie class who were willing to believe that Elizabeth Holmes, a 19-year-old college dropout who thought a black turtleneck would make her Steve Jobs, was going to revolutionize blood-testing. It didn’t seem to matter that she could not deliver any real evidence to prove it.”

An Inc. article, “The Future of WeWork: Leaner, Humbler, and Duller,” suggests a new path for We. The author suggests less hype, fewer employees, and more discipline for the company to survive.

WeWork image source.

Discussion:

  • Who do you blame for WeWork’s failed IPO?

  • If you believe the New York Times article, investors are gullible. Do you agree with this assessment? If so, why might this be the case?

  • Read the “Note”—the fine print—under the table, shown above. How do you interpret this information?

  • What should We do now to build credibility and save the business?

East Carolina University Leader Placed on Leave

East Carolina University’s interim chancellor is being investigated for inappropriate behavior with students. One video shows Dan Gerlach chugging beer and dancing with students, and photos show him with his arm around a student at a local hangout in Greenville, NC.

Gerlach wrote a statement in his defense:

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When I first started here, and even before, one constant concern that I heard was that our students needed a leader of the university to be present and approachable, someone who can speak to them in their language. That’s what I’ve set out to do at ECU. I regret that these photos are being perceived as anything more than what they are.

A member of the board of trustees said, “This is very concerning without question.” However, the bar owner defended the chancellor in a tweet:

I wasn’t there, but two of the staff told me that several people were kind of excited to see the chancellor out and in the bar…It really is a damn shame. The guy came in with some off duty cops to have some beer. Just wrong place, wrong time.

Discussion:

  • How do you assess Gerlach’s response? Explain his perspective of the situation.

  • Analyze the bar owner’s tweet. How much credibility does he have in this situation?

  • What do you think of university administrators socializing with students in this way? Do you have a different perspective of faculty? Why or why not?

Forever 21 Files for Bankruptcy

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Retailer Forever 21 has filed for bankruptcy, and employees are not happy. In its Letter to Customers, posted on the website, the company explains the process:

This does NOT mean that we are going out of business – on the contrary, filing for bankruptcy protection is a deliberate and decisive step to put us on a successful track for the future.

Hundreds of employees are planning to unionize with United for Respect, which also represented employees from Sears and Toys R Us during their bankruptcies.

The Washington Post reports employees’ reactions to the Forever 21 decision:

[S]everal employees cited past instances where Forever 21 swiftly closed stores with little warning or explanation, which prompted their concerns over how the company would treat employees amid bankruptcy.

Unions are seeing opportunities in retail employees. Private-section union membership has been shrinking in the U.S. and is now only 6.4%, compared to 33.9% of government workers. As retail employees get discouraged by their employers, union organizing activity has been increasing.

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Image source here.

Discussion:

  • Analyze the Letter to Customers. Which principles of communicating bad news are followed? How could the message be improved?

  • Explain the ethics of a company filing for bankruptcy. Use an ethical decision-model, such as that in Chapter 1, to determine the effects.

  • What’s your view of retail employees unionizing? What are the benefits to employees and potential downsides of union activity and of forming a union?

Harvard Admissions Decision

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A federal judge has decided that Harvard did not discriminate against Asian students during the admissions process. The Crimson, Harvard’s student newspaper, provides an analysis of the case.

In its defense, Harvard revealed its admissions process, which included personality ratings. The plaintiff group, Students for Fair Admissions, criticized the system as disadvantaging Asian students. However, in her decision, the judge cited testimony from admissions counselors, shown here.

The judge explained the role of diversity in her decision:

Ensuring diversity at Harvard relies, in part, on race-conscious admissions. The use of race benefits certain racial and ethnic groups that would otherwise be underrepresented at Harvard and is therefore neither an illegitimate use of race or reflective of racial prejudice.

Although she decided in Harvard’s favor, the judge did provide recommendations to Harvard:

 She recommended that admissions officers participate in implicit bias trainings, maintain clear guidelines on the use of race, and monitor any race-related statistical disparities.

She said the task of considering race in admissions is a “a particularly delicate job” to execute lawfully.

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Discussion:

  • What’s your view of this case? Read more about the case in the judge’s decision.

  • What’s your own experience during the college admissions process? How might this affect how you view the case?

  • Analyze the Harvard Crimson article. What business communication principles do the author follow?

Third CEO Announcement This Week: Wells Fargo

Wells Fargo announced a new CEO: former BNY Mellon, Visa CEO Charlie Scharf. According to a Bloomberg report, Scharf is “quiet-ish” and known for being “direct and willing to clean house”

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Scharf joins Wells Fargo as the company battles scandals beginning in 2016, when about 2 million fake accounts were discovered. Since then, the company has faced additional ethical questions and hasn’t fully recovered its image.

In its news statement, Scharf expressed his enthusiasm for the new job:

“I am honored and energized by the opportunity to assume leadership of this great institution, which is important to our financial system and in the midst of fundamental change. I have deep respect for all the work that has taken place to transform Wells Fargo, and I look forward to working closely with the board, members of the management team, and team members. I am committed to fully engaging with all of our stakeholders including regulators, customers, elected officials, investors, and communities.”

Scharf replaces General Counsel C. Allen Parker, who was appointed interim CEO, after Tim Sloan left in 2019.

Wells Fargo image source.

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Discussion:

  • How well did the Wells Fargo news statement meet its communication objectives?

  • The news statement doesn’t mention Wells Fargo’s troubled history. Should it? Why or why not?

  • Industry insiders expect Scharf to make significant changes in the organization. If you were considering a position at Wells Fargo, how would this news affect your decision?

Juul CEO Steps Down

With new reports about the dangers of vaping, Juul is replacing its CEO, Kevin Burns, with former Altria tobacco executive K.C. Crosthwaite.

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Following several deaths and worrying data about increasing numbers of young people vaping, the company also announced a pause in all advertising. The decision comes after major media companies and networks banned e-cigarette advertising. Juul had already stopped marketing and selling its flavored products.

The company’s news statement is typical for a CEO announcement with confidence expressed about the departing CEO (Kevin Burns), the new leadership, and the direction of the company. Below is the Kevin Burns’ quote:

“Working at JUUL Labs has been an honor and I still believe the company’s mission of eliminating combustible cigarettes is vitally important. I am very proud of my team’s efforts to lead the industry toward much needed category-wide action to tackle underage usage of these products, which are intended for adult smokers only. Since joining JUUL Labs, I have worked non-stop, helping turn a small firm into a worldwide business, so a few weeks ago I decided that now was the right time for me to step down. I am grateful to be able to confidently hand the reins to someone with K.C.’s skill set, which is well-suited to the next phase of the company’s journey.”

Juul image source.

Burns image source.

Discussion:

  • What are the communication objectives of the news statement? How well does it meet those objectives?

  • Assess Burns’ quote. What are the objectives of his statement, and how well does it meet those?

  • Altria had bought a 35% stake in Juul, so the CEO decision makes sense, and Crosthwaite is an industry insider. How do you view the decision?

WeWork Co-Founder and CEO Steps Down

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WeWork announced that Adam Neumann will leave his position after controversy about the company’s financial situation and the co-founder and CEO’s behavior. Within a week, the company went from preparing for an IPO to facing criticism that led to this ouster and a delayed public offering.

The company valuation has been reduced from about $47 to $15 billion based on governance issues and what the Wall Street Journal calls “ballooning losses.” The Journal also reported on Neumann’s “eccentric behavior,” including a heavy-party lifestyle that recently involved bring marijuana on a plane to Israel and saying that he might like to be the prime minister .

In its news release, WeWork provided scant information and a few quotations, including this from Neumann:

“As co-founder of WeWork, I am so proud of this team and the incredible company that we have built over the last decade. Our global platform now spans 111 cities in 29 countries, serving more than 527,000 members each day. While our business has never been stronger, in recent weeks, the scrutiny directed toward me has become a significant distraction, and I have decided that it is in the best interest of the company to step down as chief executive. Thank you to my colleagues, our members, our landlord partners, and our investors for continuing to believe in this great business.”

Neumann image source.

WeWork office image source.

Discussion:

  • Compare the company’s news release to others announcing CEO departures. How does this one differ, and why would the company take this approach?

  • What are the communication objectives of Neumann’s statement? How well does his quote meet those objectives? What else, if anything, should Neumann say or do?

Walmart Takes Another Step

In May, Walmart announced a ban on fruit-flavored e-cigarettes and sales to anyone under 21 years of age. Today, the company announced an end to all e-cigarette sales. The decision comes ahead of possible regulatory plans to ban the sale of flavored products in an effort to curb vaping among young people.

News of eight deaths and hundreds of others with pulmonary diseases has shed light on the potential dangers of vaping. A Walmart spokesperson explained the decision:

“Given the growing federal, state and local regulatory complexity and uncertainty regarding e-cigarettes, we plan to discontinue the sale of electronic nicotine delivery products at all Walmart and Sam’s Club U.S. locations.”

Walmart follows Rite Aid and Dollar General in banning e-cigarette sales. Target never sold them and stopped selling cigarettes in 1996.

After Walmart announced that it would discourage customers from openly carrying guns in its stores, Kroger, CVS, and Wegmans took similar action. That decision came after 22 were shot in an El Paso store.

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Discussion:

  • Does this news surprise you? Why or why not?

  • In addition to obviously losing vaping revenue, what’s at stake for Walmart after this decision?

  • Some criticize the decision because Walmart still sells regular cigarettes.

  • We may be seeing a trend with companies leading the way in social responsibility. What’s your view?

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Trudeau Responds to Criticism

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is fighting back after photos of him in blackface and brownface emerged. The first photo was release in Time, showing Trudeau in 2001 during an “Arabian Nights” party. He was 29 years old and was teaching at a private school. Since then, Trudeau admitted that he didn’t remember how many times he worse black or brown face make-up.

The article describes Trudeau’s reaction:

“I shouldn’t have done that. I should have known better and I didn’t. I’m really sorry.” When asked if he thought the photograph was racist, he said, “Yes it was. I didn’t consider it racist at the time, but now we know better.”

Trudeau also apologized in a press conference. Within a day, Trudeau announced new gun control legislation, which The Guardian calls trying “to shift focus.” 

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Discussion:

  • Once again, why is blackface or brownface offensive?

  • How forgiving are you of Trudeau’s behavior? Should he resign?

  • Analyze his video and response to questions. How did he handle the questions?

  • What’s your view of Trudeau’s quick response: announcing new gun legislation? Is he smart, shrewd, shirking, or something else?

Amazon Response to Employee Walkout

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Like many around the world during the Global Climate Strike, hundreds of Amazon employees walked out of their offices yesterday. Employees have been urging Amazon leaders to take more steps to reduce fossil fuel dependency and wrote an open letter back in April. The pressure seems to be working.

On Thursday, CEO Jeff Bezos announced The Climate Pledge, with the following commitments:

  • Commits to net zero carbon by 2040 and 100% renewable energy by 2030

  • Orders 100,000 fully electric delivery vehicles, the largest order ever for electric delivery vehicles

  • Invests $100 million in reforestation projects around the world to begin removing carbon from the atmosphere now

  • Launches new sustainability website to report progress on commitments

The Pledge encourages other businesses to sign on, with Amazon leading the way. Bezos said, “We’re done being in the middle of the herd on this issue — we’ve decided to use our size and scale to make a difference.” Amazon employees reacted positively.

Discussion:

  • Analyze the employees’ open letter. What persuasive strategies do they use? Look for examples of logical argument, emotional appeal, and credibility. What organizational strategies do the writers use?

  • The Amazon announcement doesn’t mention employees’ influence in the decision, although news articles and employees make the connection. Should Bezos include this recognition? Why or why not?

  • Describe a CEO’s dilemma in situations like these. When is it appropriate for leaders to meet their employees’ demands, and when should they resist? Did Bezos take the best course of action?

Online Reviews Written by Attractive People Carry More Weight

A study published in Consumer Marketing found that reviews written by more attractive rather than less attractive reviewers lead to “enhanced brand evaluation.” The Cornell and Penn State researchers swapped out photos of reviewers to test the impact of bias.

Marie Ozanne, assistant professor of food and beverage management in the School of Hotel Administration, explains the result:

“More often than we think, we are replicating our offline behavior online, and we don’t know the impact of all our general offline thinking on our online thinking. Hopefully, understanding it can help us be more conscious about it and find ways to focus more on the information that matters.”

Negative reviews didn’t see the same effect, which Ozanne believes illustrates how people think about products or services. When reading negative reviews, people may think more deeply about the product or service, and then the reviewer’s image becomes less important.

Image source. (Confession: I added a period after the first sentence.)

Discussion:

  • To what extent do you rely on online reviews?

  • How do you think appearance might influence your judgment—of online reviews or in other situations?

  • How can you ward against the effect of appearance bias?

CEOs Advocate for Gun Safety

CEOs are encouraging senators to pass stricter gun regulations, such as background checks and a “Red Flag” law that allows guns to be taken from someone who poses a threat. The leaders of 145 companies sent a letter asking for the following:

“That’s why we urge the Senate to stand with the American public and take action on gun safety by passing a bill to require background checks on all gun sales and a strong Red Flag law that would allow courts to issue life-saving extreme risk protection orders.”

The Trump Administration has implemented a ban on bump stock devices, which allows a shooter to fire in more rapid succession, and President Trump has supported more thorough background checks for gun buyers.

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Discussion:

  • What’s your view of CEOs taking on this activist role? What is driving them, and what are the potential risks?

  • What observations do you have about the companies that are represented—and perhaps about those that are not?

  • Analyze the letter by considering the audience, communication objectives, organization, writing style, and so on. What works well, and what could be improved?

British Airways Labor Dispute Arguments

On Thursday, British Airways pilots went on strike for the second time this week, grounding about 1,700 flights. Wanting a greater share of profits, pilots have turned down the company’s offer of 11.9% in pay increases over the next three years.

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Typical in these situations, the union and company blamed each other. The union, the British Airlines Pilots Association (Balpa), claims that company management chose to cancel flights instead of negotiating with them in good faith:

“Balpa set a gap between the first and second periods of strike action to give BA time to work with us to settle this dispute with their pilots. We had today been exchanging new ideas to do that via [the arbitration service] Acas and so it irresponsible and inconsiderate to its customers that BA has pulled out and decided to start cancelling flights now, just to save money on compensation. BA did not respond to our latest proposals before cancelling these flights.

“Passengers who will be affected by these cancellations should know that we have given BA multiple opportunities to work with us so we could call off this action.”

The company blames pilots for walking out:

“It is now a month since we shook hands on a pay deal. We urge [Balpa] to call off their strike and return to negotiations.

“To give our customers as much certainty as possible, we are now contacting all those affected to offer them a full refund or a rebook on an alternative date, destination or airline. We are very sorry that Balpa’s actions will affect thousands more travel plans.”

Discussion:

  • How effectively does each side express its perspective in the above quotes?

  • Research both sides of this debate. What are Balpa’s strongest and weakest arguments? What are BA’s?

  • What persuasive strategies does each side use in its arguments: logic, emotional appeal, and credibility?

Google Reassures Employees They Can Speak Out

The National Labor Relations Board has ordered Google to allow dissent among its workforce. Although you might think of Google as a place of open ideas, some employees feel stifled.

The first public incident was the infamous “Google Memo,” which argued conservative ideas about women. The employee was terminated—a decision some thought essential for the company, and others thought unfair.

More recently, employees have complained that management puts restrictions on what they can say, including how they express attitudes about the company on social media. But employees in the U.S. are allowed to engage in potential union organizing activity, which includes discussing pay and issues with management.

The Wall Street Journal explains the agreement between NLRB and Google, which does not include a statement of responsibility:

“The settlement orders Google to inform current employees that they are free to speak to the media—without having to ask Google higher-ups for permission—on topics such as workplace diversity and compensation, regardless of whether Google views such topics as inappropriate for the workplace.”

Image source.

Discussion:

  • What is the value of allowing debate in the workplace? What are the drawbacks?

  • How can managers draw the line between employees’ right to dissent and what’s right for the company?

  • Have you expressed political opinions at work? When and how were they received? Have you ever felt uncomfortable during others’ discussions? What did you do?