Google's worker firings show that the office actually isn't a place to be yourself - 6 minutes read

Google fired more than two dozen employees after they took part in sit-ins at company offices.It's a reminder that the phrase "bring your whole self to work" can come with limits.Leaders and employees need to discuss what's appropriate in the workplace.

Thanks for signing up!

Access your favorite topics in a personalized feed while you're on the go.

download the app

So much for bringing your whole self to work.

Many workplace experts will tell you that sharing too much about your personal life on the job has never been a great idea. But in the years since the gauzy "whole self" notion became something of an HR cliché, the idea has frayed even further.

That's what some Googlers found out after the company fired more than two dozen of them recently for taking part in sit-ins at company offices in California and New York. It seems increasingly clear that now, in a year when nearly half of humanity is expected to vote in national elections, it might be extra risky to hoist your political stripes at your 9-to-5.

"When managers and leaders say, 'Bring your whole self to work,' they're leaving out the terms and conditions," Megan Reitz, coauthor of the book "Speak Out, Listen Up," told Business Insider.

"Really, they're saying, 'Bring your whole selves to work, as long as we can cope with what you have to say, and please keep within the realms of the rules of the game in this organization, and don't be too disruptive, and for God's sake, don't be an activist,'" she quipped.

It's easy to see how this all got a bit muddled. Ping pong tables. Group yoga. Tech founders wearing activewear during the day on Silicon Valley campuses. Even before the pandemic, there was a movement toward showing more of what makes us us while on the job.

We've brought our dogs, our unique design sense, and, apparently, our appetite for half a can of sardines. (Sorry, office fridge.)

The pandemic blurred boundaries even further. From the early days, when anyone who could was working from home, we all got used to "meeting" their cats, spouses, or kids. There's been a certain normalization of peeking behind the curtains at your coworkers' non-office lives, which is only exacerbated by a firm shift to hybrid work.

But one thing has seemingly changed back to the olden days — and that's that even the most "woke"-seeming companies don't want you to bring your political views to work. At all.

The Google workers who protested the company's $1.2 billion cloud-computing contract with the government of Israel certainly found out that there might be quite a lot of nuance to what's acceptable, even for a company that has encouraged people to bring their whole selves to the job.

The event spurred CEO Sundar Pichai to admonish employees against dragging political debates into the office.

"This is a business, and not a place to act in a way that disrupts coworkers or makes them feel unsafe, to attempt to use the company as a personal platform, or to fight over disruptive issues or debate politics," he wrote this week. It was part of a broader memo about a corporate reshuffling meant to help the company accelerate its progress on artificial intelligence.

Of course, there's a difference between talking politics and staging a protest that disrupts work. Yet Google's decision and a recent political dustup at NPR following a longtime staffer's criticism of the nonprofit news organization are a reminder that while Doc Martens and midriff-revealing crop tops might cut it at the office these days, baring your politics might not.

'Bring your whole professional self'

The whole-self idea grew in popularity in the 2010s, Ella Washington, a professor of practice at Georgetown University, told BI. Yet it has to be within reason — and fit within what's acceptable at an organization, she said.

"It is said in a way that is supposed to encourage authenticity, but the reality is in most workplaces, you can't bring your whole self. You can likely bring your whole professional self," she said.

Washington said business leaders need to communicate what's acceptable, and workers need to weigh whether an organization's stated values align with theirs.

"When it comes to business, it shouldn't be just based on our personal politics. And I know that's difficult for people to say because it's like, 'OK, wait. I can bring my whole self to work, but I can't talk about politics,'" she said.

This is where nuance comes into play: Political talk at work can be necessary.

"When it is connected to the work that we do, we absolutely need to have those conversations," Washington said.

Deciding what's political

Still, Reitz noted that people don't always agree on what's political. Perhaps, she said, it's a conversation about race that one person sees as being fraught and another person views as essential for discussing in the context of work.

Regarding work, "There is no clarity on what politics means. So any conversation — about whether it's in or out — is already extremely problematic," Reitz said.

"Leaders are saying, 'Bring your whole selves to work — speak up.' And then a few people are kind of going, 'Oh, OK. Thank you very much for that invitation. Let's talk about climate. Let's talk about race. Let's talk about modern slavery. Let's talk about the war. Let's talk about abortion rights,'" Reitz said. But then some leaders say, "'Oh, I didn't really mean that.'"

Both Reitz and Washington said having discussions at work shouldn't mean the actual business of the organization gets put on hold.

Reitz also appeared to concur with Washington that business leaders and employees need to discuss the types of conversations appropriate for the workplace.

It might not be easy. "That means that we're prepared to make mistakes. We're prepared to have fallout. We're prepared not to please everybody," Reitz said.

But, "if you have an environment where you can't tolerate diverse opinions and views without the whole thing exploding, then your problem is bigger than politics," she said.

When companies don't engage with issues and then someone gets squashed for raising something that management deems out of bounds, the rank and file can become distrustful of the idea of bringing one's whole self to the job, Reitz said, adding, "All that does is breed even more cynicism."

However, Washington said workers have to remember what bosses are often really after.

"They don't want to walk back 'bring your whole self to work,' but the reality is that they don't actually mean bring your entire self, including your worst self, and your mean self, and your cranky self," she said. "They don't need those things."

Source: Business Insider

Powered by