RANT ALERT. Most times I try to be a dispassionate researcher of the new world of work. But sometimes I just can’t take it anymore. Today is one of those days…

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Almost every day I pick up a story on the Net of someone being fired by their company for some indiscretion related to social media or digital communications. I suppose people get fired every day for breaching company policies, but when you dig into most of these stories, you really get a feeling that the people in charge just have no freaking clue and are acting like reactionary, idiotic psychopaths.

A psychopath is “a person afflicted with a personality disorder characterized by a tendency to commit antisocial, perverted, criminal, amoral and sometimes violent acts and a failure to feel guilt for such acts.” (dictionary.com)

It may be a bit over the top to call the reflex firing of a person a psychopathic act, but it certainly is not the act of a rational, emotional stable or intelligent entity either. And when it is clear that someone has been fired largely because their employer just does not understand how social media or digital communications work, then I think you can label it antisocial, perverted, criminal and amoral. And normally there is no apology later. That’s a psychopath then!

Is your company a psychopath? You’d be surprised who else is…

The story that freaked me out this week comes from American Airlines. It starts out in a really nice way, and seems to be heading into the realms of good business case study. A web designer, trying to navigate American Airlines’ website got irritated enough (and as a frequent traveller who makes my own airline bookings, I can totally relate to that feeling) to spend an hour doing a complete redesign of American Airlines’ website. His version is magnificent, elegant and user friendly. He uploaded it to his website, and sent it to American Airlines as a suggestion. You can read his open letter to them at his website here.

To their credit, someone on the American Airlines web design team took the time to respond. You can read that response here. It’s an honest response, thanking him for the redesign and explaining some of the difficulties of trying to get good design out of a team of 200 people, representing multiple departments and stakeholders (Read FastCompany magazine’s take on this story here – with a great graphic showing how many different stakeholders are typically involved in a corporate website).

But, that person apparently responded on their own, and without official company mandate. And so he (or probably she) was fired (read the Telegraph story here). The reason given by American Airlines was that this person had signed a non disclosure agreement when joining AA, and that this response to the designer breached that agreement by disclosing “sensitive information”.


This is a knee jerk reaction that fails to see the value of connecting with a passionate customer. It misunderstands the nature of blog-type communication, and exposes a ridiculous workplace culture at American Airlines.

If I wanted to raise my blood pressure I could now do a Google search for more such stories, and fill your screen with them. I have heard so many over the past few years.

Maybe just one more… Even the once “can do no wrong” White House of Barrack Obama seems to have fallen victim to this psychopathic corporation approach.

Last week, on 19 July 2010, they fired Shirley Sherrod, who was Georgia State Director of Rural Development for the United States Department of Agriculture. She was fired after conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart posted earlier that day video excerpts of Sherrod’s address at a March 2010 NAACP event to his website, apparently showing Sherrod spouting racist statements at a public meeting. The problem here is that no-one at the White House bothered to get a copy of the full video of Sherrod’s speech, to see the context in which apparently racist comments had been made. The context showed she was no racist at all. Breitbart is a known opponent of the current administration and had edited the video to take her comments out of context. But, too late… The White House machine had already fired Sherrod. And then, they refused to apologise to her, rather blaming the media for picking up the story without investigating properly. (Read the story here and the BBC’s excellent summary and analysis here).

Seriously, what the hell is wrong with these people? Do they not have children who fiddle around with video editing software on their home computers? Maybe, as big shot corporate leaders, they don’t have enough time to play with their kids and see what even children can do with video editing these days.

Or maybe their wives keep them away from the children, because they know they’re psychopaths!

Part of what gets me out of bed every morning is the belief that there is a better way to do business, and that I can help companies to recognise this and adapt their corporate cultures to start the process of becoming better places for people to work and thrive in. Stories like these both motivate me to continue my work, and frustrate me beyond belief at how much still needs to be done…

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