This makes my day: Employers can no longer tell employees to be positive on the job.
That's right, workers have a perfect right to be gloomy, difficult and negative—and employers can't do a damn thing about it. Grumps of the world unite!
This bolt of joy comes from a recent National Labor Relation Board ruling. (Can you believe I'm excited about an NLRB ruling?) At issue was a section from T-Mobile USA, Inc.'s employee handbook, which reads, in part:
Employees are expected to maintain a positive work environment by communicating in a manner that is conducive to effective working relationships with internal and external customers, clients, co-workers, and management.
As corporate nonsense goes, this passage seems fairly innocuous. It's not forcing people to chant the corporate anthem every morning. Basically, it's telling people to behave in a civil fashion. But that's not how the NLRB views it. (The plaintiffs are Communications Workers of America, T-Mobile workers' union.) The ruling says:
We find that employees would reasonably construe the rule to restrict potentially controversial or contentious communications and discussions, including those protected by Section 7 of the NLRA, out of ear that the employer would deem them to be inconsistent with a 'positive work environment.'
In a nutshell, the NLRB finds that the "positive work environment" provision to be ambiguous, posing hindrances to employees who might be interested in unionizing. Discussions about union activities, the ruling notes, are often controversial and contentious.
I'm not a raving union type, but I'm all for healthy dosages of negativity and dissent at the workplace. Oftentimes, the freedom to be cynical about your work is one of the best things about a job. Imagine how truly dreary and oppressive it would be if you weren't able to flaunt your bad attitude!
Take working as an associate in Big Law: I don't have to tell you that the job is pressured, contentious and soul-draining. Unless they're liars or under heavy sedation, most associates can't possibly be all that positive about their work. They usually have a litany of complaints—and that's even true for those who actually like being a lawyer.
But will this ruling about phone company employees affect those hoity-toity associates in Big Law? Yes, says Gerald Lutkus, a labor employment partner at Barnes & Thornburg, who's written about the case for The National Law Review. "Lawyers are employees, subject to the Act," he says. Although he says he's not sure how many law firms exhort their employees to be "positive," Lutkus notes that it's quite common to find terms like "teamwork" and "professional conduct" in employee handbooks. His advice to management: "It's okay to use that kind of language if [the activity] is client-facing, but it's a problem when it's directed at interactions between co-workers and workers and management."
In other words: Keep on bitchn'. It's your damn right.
Related post: Teamwork Sucks for Women