Work-wise, blogging may not always work out

A few weeks ago, I did something unusual here: I revealed where I work and what we do there. I had a good reason, though (and by the way, have you voted for our project yet? Voting’s open till March 31!) – and I got permission first. Our staff was asked to communicate to our social networks in an e-mail from the CEO:

“Their process is to have people vote ‘on line’ for their favorite proposal. The results will be used, in part, for selecting the winner. I will ask you to vote using your email address and to circulate this to your friends or those contacts on Facebook or other social networks. Hopefully our staff can ‘get out the vote.’”

I e-mailed back:

“I’ll be sure to pass this along on Facebook and Twitter, but wanted to ask if it would be OK if I post about it on my blog as well. I have nearly 600 subscribers, and I know that quite a few are from the LA area. I’m asking because posting about it would require me to disclose my relationship with Aviva, and I just to want to make certain that will not be an issue for the agency. I have never blogged about anything specific to Aviva and normally keep my work life and online life separate, but I would really like to promote this project to my readers.”

(And it looks like I just did it again – check out that first paragraph!)

I’ve talked about “work” in general terms here, and mentioned that I’m an accountant in the non-profit sector, but I’ve rarely been specific prior to that post; as I told the CEO, I’ve really tried to keep the work portion of my off-line life out of my online life. (And it works both ways; very few of my co-workers know I blog, and I suspect fewer really understand what that is.)

It’s always seemed prudent to avoid mixing my job and my blog – we’ve all heard stories of people who got caught saying something work-related in an online space they thought was personal. While the nastiest consequences seem to befall those who’ve written indiscreet and disparaging things about their workplace or co-workers, one never knows who’s going to find one’s writing on the virtual wall, and it just seems wise to be cautious.

To some extent, I think people have always had to be aware that, to varying degrees, their personal conduct can affect their careers. 21st-century social media just enlarges the scope and raises the stakes. As Pam recently (and colorfully) stated:

“(T)here are countless stories of employees who have gotten into trouble over bitching about a boss, a co-worker, customers or their job in general on a social networking site.

“Like it or not, that’s the reality we all deal with. If you choose to point out that your employer is a raging doucherocket online, you may very well get called to the carpet.

“Even if you don’t get yanked up by your current employer, you still might pay the piper. More and more employers are scouting Facebook and MySpace as part of the process of researching current applicants. For the most part, I don’t really like this.

“But you know what? A part of me says that if you’re dumb enough to leave your status updates completely public AND write about how you and your buddies are gonna hit the crack pipe or you had to bitchslap your baby momma again, you deserve it if you don’t make it to a potential employer’s shortlist.”

There are things that employers are legally barred from asking about, but if they stumble across them online, that may be another story. And in that story, I’m inclined to think that someone’s partying or worshipping habits – for example – are more likely to be held against her than her reading habits, but perhaps not. Knowing that potential employers are looking online to find out more about prospective hires than what’s on their resumes has given BookishC pause:

“In the last few weeks I felt like I would have to give up blogging for fear of a company that I applied to Google-searching my name and finding my blog. I don’t think that I post anything objectionable on my blog, but that is in the eye of the beholder…On one hand, I feel like my blog is an asset. It shows that I have taken the initiative to do something for the last year and a half that I enjoy immensely and requires some thought and work. On the other hand, I don’t tell most of the employers that I apply for jobs with that I have a blog. It’s up to their HR department to find me through web searches. I am hesitant because someone may look at my choices of books to read and decide that I am not the person they are looking to hire. Maybe this is just me overreacting and feeling overstressed to find a job, but in reality I feel like this does happen to people who run personal blogs.”

It may be something that happens less often as the world at large gets more comfortable with the online life, but it does happen, both before and after hire. It quite famously happened to Heather Armstrong nine years ago:

“I lost my job today. My direct boss and the human-resources representative pulled me into one of three relatively tiny conference rooms and informed me that the company no longer had any use for me. Essentially, they explained, they didn’t like what I had expressed on my Web site. I got fired because of dooce.com.”

Heather’s recovered quite nicely, though. She has since become “Queen of the Mommy Bloggers,” one of the rare personal bloggers recognized by the world outside Blogland, and one of the even more rare personal bloggers who makes a living at it. Losing a job over something you wrote online is now occasionally called “getting dooced,” but I suspect not everyone comes out of the experience as well as the original.

Most of us literally can’t afford to get dooced – blogging is not paying our bills, and the odds that it ever will are pretty slim. Therefore, with very occasional exceptions, I’ll stick to keeping my work and blogging lives separate…unless my workplace finally realizes they need a social-media presence, and that I’m the best person to manage it.

Assuming your blog isn’t work-related, do your work and your blog keep their distance from each other?

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