freedom of speech

The Pursuit of Happiness and the Affect of Freedom of Speech in Business

Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.

Proverbs 17:28 ESV

Freedom of speech. Nothing has been more powerful, hurtful, soothing and divisive than this right. Why? Everyone has an opinion and believes they should share it. However, many ALSO believe their right to speak their minds comes with no repercussions. They think they can vent, feel better and life continues as usual. Not true. While you are guaranteed the right to speak, no one has to listen. If they choose to listen, they can disagree – this is often expressed in dollars.

megaphone protestorWhen this happens, many get indignant and claim it’s not fair their business should be affected because they exercised their right to speak freely. If you believe in this, I have one word for you – naïve. So, while your business is your right to pursue happiness, the question is, “Do I have the right to free speech in business?” The answer is yes (if you are the owner); but, you must weigh the consequences.

I weighed whether to write this article. Many today do not think critically nor take the time to read history and inform themselves; they simply accept and regurgitate what they’ve heard others say. Some may read more into this article than is there and choose (because of an agenda or strong bias) to misinterpret or misrepresent what is written. However, I chose to write it, because if you’re in business, this topic is critical in today’s business climate.

To Kneel or To Stand

Take the current situation in sports (NFL, MLB and NBA) and the controversy of taking a knee. Players want to make a political statement, whatever it may be. They chose to make it on the job (not their own personal time), and people voted with their dollars. Some chose to agree and are still buying tickets and jerseys, while the remainder chose to boycott the NFL. It didn’t take long for team owners and the commissioner to realize they offended about half of their cash flow and started walking back their stand.

Whether you agree or disagree with the WHY of it all doesn’t matter. From a business standpoint, knowing if you sell anything, you sell to both demographics: those who agree and disagree with you. Therefore, was it wise to make a political statement when you were supposed to be providing your service to paying customers? In other words, during a game, those who purchased tickets, jerseys, beer and food were there for one purpose only – to enjoy a game and forget the rest of the world for a few hours. They forked over their cash and the service provider (in this case, the NFL) chose to taint that product with a political agenda. When people cried foul, the NFL doubled down. Now people said, “Fine! I won’t watch, buy tickets or memorabilia, and I’ll take my money elsewhere!” And the NFL blinked and is wondering what happened.

Your Business and Freedom of Speech

If you’re a business owner, you have opinions and beliefs that guide how you do business and live your life. To say one’s personal life doesn’t affect his or her business is misguided. The old adage, “It’s just business…” is not true. However, in business, how one expresses those beliefs and values need to be tempered with sound judgment.

Does this mean one shouldn’t take a stand on what’s important? That’s not what I’m saying. What it DOES mean is, you should weigh HOW important it is to you and whether you could survive any negative repercussions. If you were out of business, because of a wrong decision, would you be able to continue to make an effective stand with no income source?

Therefore, this should not be taken lightly, because as a business you serve people who agree AND disagree with you, and you may be doing a disservice to one or both of those demographics. How so? Offending those who disagree and, possibly, going out of business and not being able serve those who do. Not to forget your employees losing their jobs.

But What About the Little Guy or Girl?

sign protestorIf you are an employee, you have freedom of speech – of course. However, you also have responsibility with your rights. Being prudent and knowing when to speak and how to deliver your message effectively are crucial.

For someone to choose to exercise his or her freedom while on the job, is choosing to force repercussions for it on the employer, who may or may not agree with the stand taken. If an employer is paying someone for his or her skill and time, while on the job, he or she doesn’t have that right. Nor the right to use company resources for a personal agenda. Once the person clocks out and is on his or her own time, he or she can speak whatever they wish (within reason).

Social Media: The Great Communicator

As an employer, making sure your employees understand this, is very important. And, who the company chooses to trust with its social media presence (some companies keep this close to the vest, others allow employees to participate) is a serious decision. Most personal political positions are shared online, which is harder to clean up and manage. If an employee has shown a penchant for being very emotional or temperamental, he or she may not be the best person representing your company on social media. One post that hits an emotional nerve and their reaction could cost a company tens-of-thousands of dollars.

Making it Personal

Imagine you hired someone to cut your lawn and prune your trees. He or she decides to take some of the time you paid for to stand in front of your house and spew rhetoric that offends your neighbors. Your neighbors hear it and now think you agree with his or her position, because obviously you allowed him or her to say it from your property. Now, you have issues with your neighbors who won’t speak with you or invite you to any festivities. You feel shunned, awkward and hurt – and it wasn’t your fault! You tell the person, “Who gave you the right to stand on my property and say what you said?” The person replies, “The Constitution!” You say, “I agree you have freedom of speech, but it doesn’t say you can do it on my private property! Get off my property, NOW!”

That’s what happens when someone does it on the job. Except the shunning now has a dollar value, which not only affects the businesses soundness, but job security for all employees. Why? Fewer sales means fewer people needed to produce or deliver what the company sells. Which equates to some people being let go.

With Freedom Comes Responsibility

ponderingWe live in the greatest country in the history of the world. While not perfect, it offers the most opportunity, with the highest protections and ability to pursue your happiness unimpeded. The American Constitution solidifies the rights endowed by our Creator with a vow to honor and uphold them – because, after all, any right given by government can be taken away, but those granted by God cannot.

If you choose to use your opportunity to build a business, remember your business will not exist without customers. No business has ever prospered in isolation – if it’s legal. Since we don’t live in a command economy (like North Korea or Cuba), but rather a capitalist economy, customers will choose your business if you offer value, good products and services, and makes them feel appreciated. If you choose to take a stand, know there will be people who disagree with you and may vehemently oppose you.

So, choose what you say and HOW you say it wisely. Make sure the battle you choose to fight is worth it. If it is, fight courageously and strongly; but know in every battle there are always winners and losers, and collateral damage.

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