Last week, Nintendo localization editor Chris Pranger made an appearance on a small podcast called Part-Time Gamers. This week, Nintendo fired him.
As companies acquire more and more (reportedly constitutional) rights to free speech, employees of companies ironically lose them.
When did this happen and who said it was OK?
Sure, “at-will” employment anticipates companies will fire and employees will quit for no apparent reason. On the other hand, one has to wonder what’s wrong with companies that treat their employees like worthless cogs vs. human beings whose passion and creativity are what make any (technically lifeless) entity seem alive in the first place.
You would think these companies would encourage that passion, but perhaps spend a few bucks up front to train everyone as to more media savvy techniques: when and what to say vs. nothing at all.
I have personal experience with this, having almost been fired by Microsoft (Balmer-era, to be fair) for blogging. Later on, I apparently had a promotion temporarily held hostage over it.
Granted, writing about the company you work for is never to be done without support or counsel. Writing about what they should do in the future is extra-ballsy, perhaps even nuts. In my case, I actually had prior permission from two more senior employees in my org (one being my boss, both of whom defended me) to blog about the topic. And yet that was almost not enough to stem the tide of an angry mob escalating the issue to the top.
“To the cannon!”
Some may say that what I said was going against company direction. Others know that I was being extremely diplomatic, even generous, in my public comments compared to reality.
The VP who most frothed at the mouth over my post is now out of his. His product is now radically changed for the better. And what I’d said was such basic common sense, like “level duh,” that it eventually took hold and became overall company policy, no thanks to me.
What I know for sure that I was ridiculously naive about the reaction of the press. Sites like “The Register” were so eager to bash Microsoft that they were willing to use me as the tool, instead of actually reporting. Because reporting would have required effort, at least a little, to figure out the really newsworthy story under the hood.
So the moral of this story is not that “one can’t talk” — we do in fact have free speech as long as we’re not afraid to use it — but that one can’t talk in such a way that it gets significant media attention without buy-in from suitably higher and higher levels of the company in advance.
Because the more attention you get, the more powerful people in a company will rise up to protect their own vested interests. And that, in the end, is why people get fired for talking.