Word to the wise: Keep your opinions to yourself

This advice goes out to the newer and younger professionals working in corporate communications, public relations and media relations because I’m assuming old dogs such as I already know this: Keep your personal opinions to yourself.

I was reminded of the wisdom of this advice yesterday when I read the CNN article that stated, “A public affairs official at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIH) will ‘retire’ after a news report identified him as the anonymous author of blog posts on a conservative website that disparaged Dr. Anthony Fauci and mocked the use of masks…”

I worked for almost 30 years in health care and financial communications for some major organizations in Los Angeles and Portland, Ore. I represented those organizations while I was at work during the day, when I was at home at night and on the weekend. As a spokesperson, my job never ended. My personal reputation was intertwined with my employer’s. I could not sever that bond, ever, while I was still cashing those paychecks. And neither can you with your employer.

It’s pretty near impossible — as that NIH official discovered — to speak on behalf of your employer and then go out and speak on behalf of yourself. Once the news media connects you to your organization, whatever you say will reflect on your employer. Whenever you state an opinion about something, it better be what your employer thinks, NOT what you think.

This age of social media that we all live in now only accentuates what I’m saying. Look at the NIH official. He didn’t even have the courage to put his name on his posts and he was still discovered to have authored them, thereby losing his job.

I know this is difficult. In today’s splintered, disrupted and polarized American society, there are so many of us with extremely strong opinions about a variety of topics. We yearn to speak out. To let others know how we feel. To criticize those who don’t agree with us. To take a stand and tell the world what we believe and value.

But if you’re employed, I urge you to just keep your personal opinions to yourself. Don’t say or post anything that will embarrass your employer. It’s not worth throwing away your job, your livelihood and possibly your career.

I know there are many folks who will respectfully disagree with me. After all, we all grew up learning how the First Amendment guarantees us free speech. And it most certainly does. However, your employer is also free to fire you if you say or do anything that embarrasses it or conflicts with its opinions.

So it’s your decision to make. Is writing that social media post really worth losing your job? If so, it might be time to seek employment elsewhere.

At least that’s my opinion.

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