Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
December 6, 2011 8:47 PM

You Are The Company That You Keep

It's a question of scruples: is what you do off of the company's time any of the company's business?

It's hard to answer "yes" to that question. We're entitled to do (and be) whoever we want on our own time so long as when we're on the job, we're doing everything we can to meet or exceed the requirements and expectations of our employers. The problem is that many of our lives are no longer all that private at all. I'm currently reading Jeff Jarvis' latest business book, Public Parts, and it is - without question - challenging me to think very differently about the concept of privacy. It's not just Jarvis. Increasingly, our jobs and lives are one. They're not delineated by the weekdays from nine to five. We have Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube and more where we are sharing anything and everything that we're up to. To say that you can separate which part of that life is work and personal is also becoming that much more fuzzy.

That being said, when you're on the job, you are the company (or at least a representative of it).

RIM (the makers of BlackBerry) don't need any more stress than they already have (for proof of that, please see this: Business Insider - RIM's Absolutely Awful Year). This past week, two of their executives got drunk on a flight, allegedly became belligerent, were restrained by airline staff and passengers, forced the flight to land and the story just keeps on getting uglier. I was surprised to see a Blog post on BlackBerry Cool called, The Air Canada Issue Has Nothing to Do With RIM that stated: "So two drunks were charged with mischief and had to be removed from an Air Canada flight from Toronto to Beijing. Why is it relevant that they're RIM employees? Stories like this have been reported before, but the place of work for those charged is never disclosed because it's simply not relevant. Did RIM as a company have anything to do with them being drunk? Of course not. Also, have you ever taken a flight from Toronto to Beijing? I dare you to fly for 13 hours without getting blackout drunk. It's boring as hell."

It's not that simple.

These two executives were travelling on business for RIM... not pleasure. Their tickets were paid for by RIM (their employer). I would argue that they are ambassadors for the business that employs them 24 hours a day (especially because they are executives). I would argue even harder that if they're travelling for business, then they represent the business. This issue has everything to do with RIM because these two were "on the clock." Is RIM responsible for their behavior? No. But, these two should know that when they're travelling for business, they are the business. I believe that RIM's name was front and center in this story because of this.

In a twenty-four hour world. 

It's easy to run. It's easy to hide. It's easy to say that your private life is private. The challenge is when you're posting and sharing all of this "private" stuff for everyone to see, share and comment on. One simple way to work around this is to ensure that you and the company that you keep have shared values. This goes over and above your employment and your non-disclosure agreements. Think very seriously about your "private" actions and ask yourself, "if this should happen to get on YouTube, how will it be perceived in terms of my professional life?" While that may sound, harsh, cold, and/or impractical, we have to realize how much our world has changed. In the instance of RIM, it seems pretty cut and dry (considering that they were travelling for business), but this Blog post isn't about RIM... it's about all of us and how we think and act (day in and day out). In the case of RIM, the two executives (who pleaded guilty) were fired (more on that here: The New York Times - 2 RIM Executives Are Fired for Disturbance on Flight).

The lesson? You are the company that you keep.

By Mitch Joel