Bad Decisions Make for Great Stories

Two weeks ago I flew home from San Francisco, and had the bad luck of missing my connecting flight home in Salt Lake City.  It happened to be the last flight of the night so I settled into SLC for the evening.  Typically, I don’t check  my luggage, but this trip I did so I was stuck without a change of clothes and toiletry essentials.  When traveling to the west coast via Delta, my connecting flight is almost always in SLC.  Personally, it’s a clean airport, and I enjoy watching all the babies.  The Salt Lake City airport tends to have more little babies and toddlers running around.  I just like to people watch especially cute, snuggly babies.

My Polygamy Story in Salt Lake City

About month ago, I was stopped in my tracks as I walked to my gate by a t-shirt display in a nice airport shop that had the words, “I’ve tried Polygamy.”  I was surprised to see a shirt like that in SLC that was so brazen especially that we have our first Morman Presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, and for a moment it made me chuckle none the less.  So two weeks ago, I was in need of a t-shirt and toiletries and I made a b-line for that same shop where I saw the shirt.  All I said to my husband on the phone was, “I bought that shirt.”  And later I found out that although he knew which shirt I was referring to, he sincerely hoped he was wrong.  Except he wasn’t.

I slept like hell at the hotel.  The bed was uncomfortable, and the room at the Comfort Inn was so dirty I actually took Instagram pics (here and here) later reporting my dissatisfaction to Delta for the sub-par accommodations.  I showered, changed clothes, and made my way back to the airport to catch my flight home.

Religious Tolerance or Bad Taste?

I have a couple Mormon friends who I thought might get a chuckle out of it so I posted a picture of myself wearing the shirt poking a little fun.  The conversation was immediate and many of my Facebook friends joined in the discussion.  Was the t-shirt too much?  So I wondered, had I gone too far?  It seems like Facebook has heightened everyone’s awareness regarding current beliefs, Presidential elections, events, and other perceived wrong doings.  What was funny to me was offensive to others even if that was not the intent.  Where do we draw the line?  That’s exactly what Joan Ginsberg discussed last week on her blog when she mentioned the Jesus Fish and religious tolerance.  If you are interested in the comments from my Facebook picture, click here.

Thin Gray Line of Social Media and Facebook in the Workplace

Even more so how will companies handle this heightened state of awareness not just in regards to politics but any of those considered taboo topics of sex, religion, and politics.  If seven out of ten employees have friended a co-worker or boss on Facebook, where does work really end and personal relationships begin?  That pretty much sums up the challenge of HR and senior leaders at companies today, and I’m certain that as an HR professional for an organization that photo would have either landed me the pink slip or a final warning from my boss.  A 15 second decision to post a photo could cost me or an employee their job.  Because as organization leaders especially in HR, we are not allowed to express our opinions really and truly even if they are in jest. Instead we go to HR conferences, get wildly drunk and do stupid, regretful things because we think that we are safe among professionals like ourselves.

Would you have fired me as an HR leader for sharing this photo on Facebook?  How do you handle situations at work like what I’ve described above or would employees be better off (like me) serving as consultants and free agents so we can truly be ourselves?  These are the kinds of things we must begin thinking in this new social workplace.  

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell (@jmillermerrell) is a workplace change agent, author and consultant focused on human resources and talent acquisition living in Austin, TX. Recognized by Forbes as a top 50 social media influencer and is a global speaker. She’s the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource and host of the Workology Podcast.

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Comments

    • Jessica Miller-MerrellJessica Miller-Merrell says

      ha! Exactly!

      Scott, in honesty, the shirt isn’t really even about the Morman religion. It’s a beer t-shirt and on the back has an advertising for beer. It was funny because when I bought the shirt I didn’t even realize there was something on the back. I just liked the front.

      Thanks for the comment.

      JMM

  1. AvatarRay_anne says

    What I thought was interesting is that your Mormon friends and ex-Mormon friends thought it was funny. Those who should have been hyper-sensitive about the message…

    It was those who had no bearing or vested interest in the sentiment who became angry and/or offended.
    What does that mean?

    Have we become a society of hyper-critical, hyper-sensitive people without the need for that hyper-ness? Does all this talk of tolerance fall on deaf ears? Are those who cry “tolerance!” those who show it least?

    Seems to be the case as I have heard the cries of “That’s offensive!” and “You need to be more tolerant!” from those who claim to be tolerant, themselves….
    Why should “those” opinions matter?

    I am the only one in my family who is no longer Mormon. Because I was raised intently in the Mormon faith, I am protective of the faith and of my family who still practices.

    The fact of the matter is that early Mormons didn’t only “practice” polygamy, they did it. It is part of the history of the Mormon church – so did MOST prophets in the Bible – it is part of the history of religion. It is a fact, a part of history that is TRUE – why would that be offensive?

    Get a sense of humor – because I or anyone laughed at the sentiment doesn’t label me as intolerant. It labels me as human and open-minded. NOT the opposite.

  2. AvatarBreanne Harris says

    Interesting! When I saw the pic I thought it was quirky and fun, and that you are gutsy to wear it. I never even thought about it from an HR perspective. Perhaps that’s because I know you are your own boss. I actually also didn’t immediately associate it with the Mormon religion. Odd. I think we all have hot buttons, and some of us are more sensitive to certain topics than others.

    • Jessica Miller-MerrellJessica Miller-Merrell says

      Hi Breanne,

      The shirt fits my trouble making style and not everyone on the comment thread was offended. It’s hard to determine what’s important to people who are either monitoring your social media activities at work or are co-workers who disagree or are offended because of your beliefs. What happens to free speech?

      JMM

    • Jessica Miller-MerrellJessica Miller-Merrell says

      Stephen,

      I’d like to think that most good managers would, but what about the crappy ones who are looking for the last straw to fire the trouble making employee? Guess, I wouldn’t want to work at an organization like that, but still.

      Thanks for joining in the conversation.

      JMM

  3. AvatarJoan Ginsberg says

    Thanks for the shout on my blog, Jessica. Like Breanne, when I first saw this pic on Facebook I didn’t even know it was supposed to reference Mormonism. It wasn’t until I read the Facebook comments that I understood the connection.

    In my world, parody and sarcasm are fine, even if they are aimed “against” me. Your shirt, which is only gently sarcastic, is perfectly acceptable. Outright meanness or rudeness is not acceptable. A shirt that said, “All Mormons suck” might be over the line and intolerant.

    But that’s just me – and I know others will draw a line in totally different places.

    And we will still have things to blog about. 😉

    • Jessica Miller-MerrellJessica Miller-Merrell says

      Hi Joan,

      Thanks for the comment. Honestly, like you the thought didn’t cross my mind when I took a picture with the shirt. I was just trying to poke some fun at others, but based on the discussion on Facebook and your blog, I thought it was worth more conversation.
      I can think of many times I have had to have conversations with employees who were handing out political bumper stickers in the office or posting religious pictures that to some were offensive. Facebook and social media opens up a whole new can of worms where people get an unfiltered look into who you as an individual really are.

      Thanks for drumming up the discussion, and yes, we will never run out of things to blog about in our industry. I’m no longer worried about that prospect.

      JMM

  4. AvatarMark Boeder says

    Hi Jessica … There are just way too many people who get up every day looking for some reason to be offended by something … Too often (whether by intent or not) they suck the fun out of work / life for everyone else. Ray_anne referenced tolerance / intolerance above … we have been seeing this referenced in all of the political rhetoric from both sides recently. It is so ironic to me that most of those screaming about intolerance simply are railing about somebody who does not share their opinion … so then who is being intolerant? I think most people really know what is and what is not truly offensive.

    No one should be fired for having a little fun as long as it is truly not impinging on someone else’s life or performance. I kinda like living in a society founded on free speech and thought and I don’t think of people as enemies or being bad simply because we might disagree on something.

    Sense of humor is what helps us get through the gnarly patches … sense of humor should not be eliminated (or hidden under a basket) simply because two people do not share the exact same sense of humor.

    You ask a good question, Jessica “would employees be better off (like me) serving as consultants and free agents so we can truly be ourselves?” Maybe I ‘m a little too Pollyanna about this but I don’t think our employment type (employee, consultant, etc.) should matter … I think that employers are going to get the most out of an employee when that person is allowed to be themselves. The individual simply has to use judgement regarding time and place and situation regarding which parts of their personality come to the fore at any given time. But that’s like life in general … Heck I learned that stuff when I was a kid.

  5. AvatarJen says

    Can’t believe anyone would find this offensive. I find the ridiculous especially funny and this T on you is funnier than if a beer-guzzling co-ed were wearing it.

    • Jessica Miller-MerrellJessica Miller-Merrell says

      Jen,

      Thanks for the comment. That’s exactly what I thought. Of course, the t-shirt is geared towards guys, but it has still generated a lot of conversation. Personally, I think it’s funny, but I wonder how my employer would feel about it especially if it was a conservative organization.

      JMM

  6. AvatarMichael says

    Hi Jessica,

    I thought the shirt was funny. Of course, I’m in the mortgage industry – so anything goes for me!

    Good post though. It did make me think how certain workplace enviroments would react…

    Michael

    • Jessica Miller-MerrellJessica Miller-Merrell says

      Thanks, Michael. The reaction both on and off social media has been mixed, but it’s conversation none the less, and that’s where I think that is what we need to be doing among each other as we are entering a completely new era of the workplace.

      Appreciate your comment. 🙂

      JMM

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