You Are The Company That You Keep

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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.


  1. Clocking off is becoming increasingly difficult and it’s fair to say that most people don’t want to be a company representative 24 hours a day, but it’s important to remember that what you do in private may, and often does, end up in public.
    This isn’t really anything new. 30 years ago many more people worked within their local community. The bank executive who got drunk and danced naked at the town fair would probably have his boss to answer to… not a lot has changed there.
    I think it’s all a question of degrees… getting drunk on a flight is not really news worthy. Getting thrown off is, whoever you work for. And if people are gunning for your company, you might want to think about being extra careful!

  2. What about good old values? I figure if you are a jerk and act like a jerk you are a jerk. I happen to agree; if you are connected you need to express yourself in a way that respects who you are and who you spend your time with. Family and business alike. Get drunk. Just be prepared for the fallout. Gibson’s fantasy clearly foreshadows where we are going but conveniently ignores the good in basic human values.

  3. I created another id to spread out my ideas, because when written within my id, I will be thinking of the response that I will get and hence could not express myself, thus my personal is different, I don use to tweet the truth, but I used to tweet the impression that I need to create from the people I know.
    Calicut, Kerala

  4. Proper behavior is one thing, but right for privacy and private life is the other. Let’s consider a little extreme example – would Your sexual life affect Yours company reputation? After all Your ex-partner can tell the others that for example You have an erection dysfunction and, because let’s assume You’re a board member, this gossip goes public – would this threaten how Yours company is viewed by others and weakened it’s position in tough world of business? As I said this is a little extreme but we will eventually face issues like this if we would stop to separate our private life from our professional life. You’re not your job (unless you’re king 😉 ).

  5. Mitch, this is so spot on. When I read that news report, i had the same impression. While you are traveling on ‘your own time’, you are a representative of the organization 24/7. One action that you do to a potential customer/current client or the like, can directly affect perception and even revenue.
    Would be difficult for a company that lets say makes a specific brand of clothing, going around touting the fact that they wear a direct competitor’s clothing and boasting its quality.
    Your actions and mishaps are directly reflective to what quite possibly might happen to your business moving forward. The complainers need to remember, without that employer, they are unemployed….why directly affect something that puts money in your pocket.

  6. Well, pretty soon RIM will fire everyone working on them, not only those who get drunk on flights.
    RIM is, unfortunately, a company with no future. They’re still trying to figure out how to create phones to compete with the older version of the iPhone. I think they can learn a thing or two just by looking at Samsung. RIM’s prospects are very, very dim.

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