Q: Our boss just put together an employee handbook, and one of the things it says is, "No employee should ever talk directly to anyone from the media or to any government official about on-farm procedures, inventories, activities and so forth. Only the boss should handle these situations."
It’s insulting to us that our boss doesn’t think we know enough about our jobs to be able to tell people what we do. I wouldn’t say anything to hurt this place, so why can’t I help these people understand what we do?
A: I can appreciate how you feel, but it is important to remember that this issue is not about your knowledge of or loyalty to the operation. The real issue has to do with your boss’ desire to assure that all information about the company that’s made public is consistent and limited. Speaking to a sixth-grade class is very different from talking to the media or a government official, where everything you say becomes a matter of permanent record.
I remember hearing about a producer who had one of his employees haul manure close to a main highway. A television camera crew was on their way back to the station after filming an event in a nearby town. It was a sunny fall day and since the camera crew had some time, they stopped to talk to this well-meaning employee who was happy to answer some basic questions and let them film him doing a good job of hauling manure.
That night on the news, there was a story about the amount of industrial waste, livestock waste and sewer discharge that was supposedly ending up in a local waterway. Can you guess whose manure wagon was shown going down the field during the entire story? It didn’t matter that this field was 20 miles away from the waterway in question. It served the TV reporter’s purpose. Worse yet, every time there was a story on pollution, regardless of the source, there was the producer’s equipment going down that same field.
Your employer needs to be certain that everything that’s said about the operation is in the business’ best interest. The only way to do that is to designate which people can make statements and answer questions.
Don’t take it personally that you aren’t on that list. Honestly, do you really want to take the chance that you could be the person driving that manure wagon?
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