Business Columns & Blogs

View from HR: What does freedom in the workplace really mean?

July 4th is a good time to reflect on freedom. Not just the Bill of Rights variety, but freedom in the workplace and in our own jobs.

Despite wide misconception, the U.S. Constitution does not apply to private workplaces. The Constitution outlines the rights and powers of government, as well as the rights of citizens in dealing with that government. It has almost nothing to do with how your workplace runs or your rights at work.

So many lawmakers confuse the issue, for example, by saying the Second Amendment right to bear arms means employees should be allowed to bring guns to work in their cars. The Second Amendment does not apply in private workplaces! Similarly, there is no Constitutional right to free speech, to a property interest in your job, to privacy or to freedom of/from religion at work. (There are specific exceptions in governmental workplaces and by statute.)

Now that the Constitution is out of the way as a private workplace issue, what does freedom really mean at work?

Reducing failure

You cannot talk seriously about freedom without accountability. Accountability is the price extracted by private business in return for promised rewards.

Accountability to effort, values, goals, successes, failures ... the workplace requires accountability for every freedom granted.

Accountability is the primary difference between how typical governments function and how successful businesses function. A politician might be accountable to some extent at the ballot box, but gerrymandering softens that possibility. Think about how often government looks hard at the effectiveness of a program or funding stream and truly holds the people and that stream accountable.

Sure, it happens, but not regularly. In fact, it can be said that if an entity is not allowed to fail economically, it is destined to fail in its ultimate goals. The cushion provided by guaranteed financial continuation is the root of failure.

View accountability at work as the best way we have to reduce business failure and meet market demands. Look at individual goals and long-term objectives as necessary immunization from complacency. See discomfort and frustration during the journey as evidence your organization understands no business is pre-ordained to long-term success.

Handling freedom

People who welcome accountability get more responsibility. Those who handle responsibility get more autonomy. Jobs that include autonomy and responsibility are more interesting and ultimately more rewarding.

Six out of ten times, when a person fails in a role, they fail because they handle freedom poorly. When no one was watching, when no one was nagging, when no one provided tough feedback, when feedback was ignored ... the freedom to rock along led to job demise.

The U.S. Constitution does a good job of protecting us from our government. It guarantees us all important freedoms, bestowed through the accident of birth and the sacrifices of many.

Workplace freedoms are not birthrights. They are accountability challenges for most and traps for some. Are you handling your workplace freedoms in responsible ways?

Bruce Clarke, J.D., is CEO of CAI, helping more than 1,000 North Carolina employers maximize employee engagement and minimize employer liability. For more information, visit