Saturday, June 2, 2012

Public and Private, Personal and Professional

I'm going to assume that everyone here knows the First Rule of Posting Stuff the Internet, which is that the last person you want to find a post will, eventually, find it. In accordance with this First Rule, I limit the topics I post about to things that I could explain to (a) my grandmother, (b) an employer, or (c) the police.

I got some criticism on Twitter about yesterday's post-- mostly questioning my understanding of the importance of first impressions, professionalism, and the public nature of the Internet.  Don't worry-- I get it!  Just to reiterate: in real life, first impressions count a lot, you must behave professionally at work, and everything on the Internet is public.  (Even that stuff you've got heavily locked down on Facebook, because all it takes is one friend.)

The reason I'm blogging is to try and sort out the bits of my life that I can't see clearly because I'm in the middle of living it.  I'm young and confused, and I want to make some sense out of what I'm experiencing.  The feedback I got yesterday helped me figure out what I was trying to pull out of the dream I had.

Here's the bit that I was trying to tease out yesterday and couldn't quite get: even if all of this information is publicly available on the Internet, I believe that there's a lot out there that employers* shouldn't use in making HR decisions.  Everything you post on the Internet is public, but much of it is personal, and even if employers can see it, it is still none of their business. Generally speaking, when we talk about personal, public things, we need to consider two continua: the public/private continuum and the personal/professional continuum.
Public professional things: working attire, accomplishments, interpersonal interactions.  Private professional things: compensation, HR file.  Public personal things: outfits you wear outside the house, causes you support, your family.  Personal private things: health information, anything in the bedroom.
In other words, things can be personal and public. It shouldn't impact the professional.
Specifically, my objection goes like this:

  1. Employers require that employees maintain a standard of professional conduct and productivity in the workplace.  This isn't the part that bothers me.
  2. Employers also require pre-employment background checks and ask questions about your hobbies. In an opaque hiring process, I don't know how much of a role my personal public life plays-- and this bothers me.
So, for me, my refusal to shave my hands represents my refusal to restrict the unprofessional activities I participate in during my own time but in a public space.  As long as I fulfill my professional responsibilities, an employer should not care whether I have six children or none at all. An employer shouldn't care whether I spend my weekends mentoring children or drinking alcohol.  An employer shouldn't care whether all my friends are industry professionals or meth dealers.**  Employers shouldn't care whether I shave my hands, as long as I do the work they pay me to do.

Some Objections (That Aren't Valid)

Some may point out that a company has a responsibility to screen employees to prevent PR liabilities, but if a person comports themselves with decorum during the interview process and during their professional career, it is my opinion that an employer should concern themselves more with whether or not an employee can add value to the company.

I also realize that employers do not have very many data points to inform their hiring process.  Adding irrelevant data points will not improve the quality of the hiring decisions.

Note: when I say "I think that X shouldn't Y", I do NOT mean "I think Y should be illegal".
*Grandmothers can care about your personal public life because they love you and want you to be happy. The police may care about your personal public life if you commit crimes.  I can't think of a reason why employers should care about your personal public life, unless you are using it to bad-mouth them.

**Important note: None of my friends are meth dealers.

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