Saturday, March 15, 2008

Work-related: Why I Don't Identify My Employer by Name

I don't know if any of my readers even notice, but I routinely feel kind of weird about not identifying where I work by name. Anybody who was really trying to find out could do so in an afternoon, of course: there are only just so many possibilities here, but somehow it's crossing a line to say which one.

Ficus lyrata et al.

In some ways I would actually really like to identify my employer, because I think they're pretty good people, and we have every reason to be proud of the stuff we sell, and it'd be kind of a kick for me personally if my blogging helped increase business in some way (plus maybe there'd be another raise in it for me, who knows). But I haven't actually told my employer that I have a blog. I don't know that she'd mind, but it's potentially kind of a slippery slope, from could you not make the customers sound like idiots1 to could you not use so many swear words if you're going to be mentioning the store by name, and then onward to stop acknowledging that we ever have pest problems in the greenhouses and could you maybe do a post mentioning the sale on perennials this weekend and, maybe, eventually, to it's cool if you're gay, but maybe you don't want to emphasize that so much if you're serious about this counting as advertising for the store. Not that I know she'd say any of that. Some of it sounds like her, some of it not so much. But I just don't want the possibility to arise, and since I don't know where or how to draw that line, I just don't go there to begin with.

Plus if I knew people were watching what I said, people in positions of some authority over me at work, then I'd be self-conscious about what I was saying. Which honestly, these posts take long enough to write as it is: I don't want to have to be combing over them for public relations or trade-secret purposes.

I've been making an effort to think about the trade-secret angle, and don't think I've crossed any lines yet, but it's hard to know exactly what qualifies, because the boss has sort of a broad and vague definition of what might count as proprietary. (As would I, if I were in her shoes.) But in any case, if the competition is reading this in the hopes of learning something useful, I don't expect I've given them any real ammunition: judging by the boss's reaction to things I've said about other places, and conversations with people working at other places, the people running garden centers and nurseries in the area are very interested in what's going on with one another, but it's in a sort of high-schooly, gossipy, oh-so-she's-going-out-with-him-now way: it doesn't mean anybody's going to do anything differently.

I did mention having a blog to WCW at one point early on, when I had first started it, but she didn't seem that interested, and once I thought about it a little I concluded that I didn't necessarily want her to see it anyway. If she finds it on her own, great (and hi, WCW!), but I'd just as soon not know about it, if she does.

Dracaena deremensis 'Lemon-Lime' conga line.

I actually worry about all this a little bit anyway, because of stuff like this.2 While I doubt that my employer would go that far, and I think that she and I, in the event, could have a reasonable and productive discussion about things,3 this is also a conversation I would rather not have.

But so the upshot is, my employer might benefit slightly from connection to the blog, and the blog might benefit slightly from connection to my employer, but it's not worth having to negotiate my word choices with someone else, or hold back more than I already do. Which, just leaving the business name out of the posts isn't necessarily going to keep me anonymous, but it's the best compromise I can come up with for now.

Would that the world worked a little differently.


Photo credits: both my own, both from work, both somewhat dated.

1 For what it's worth, even if I call a customer stupid every now and again, I don't actually mean stupid. As I have noted previously ("The Rainbow of Thumbs"), growing plants is a skill, it's not something you're born knowing how to do. So, while a customer may have done the worst possible thing for a particular plant, and the plant may die as a result, I wouldn't mean that the customer him- or herself is a drooling idiot. There's always stuff to be learned, and I do wrong stuff to the plants all the time too, and then learn better after the fact. I'm harsh about customers who admit no fault ("The Mystery of the Returned Ficus," for example), because if you won't concede that maybe you've done something wrong, then you're not just ignorant about how to care for your plant, but you are willfully ignorant, which is something I have long-standing personal issues with, involving a wide variety of people and a wide range of topics, which it's better for everybody if you don't get me started on that. We'll just leave it at: for willful ignorance you get no slack at all, but for involuntary ignorance you get all the slack you need.
2 Granted, in that particular case, it just underscores that CNN, and contemporary American journalism in general, by extension, are in no way concerned with conveying useful and accurate information to the public, which I think is something a lot of us figured out a long time ago, which is why blogs are such a hot medium now anyway. If journalists had been doing their jobs all along, nobody would ever have bothered with public-affairs blogs, and they'd all be hobby blogs like this one or depressing hey-look-at-me blogs written by teenagers about how they just got dumped and school sucks and their parents are stupid. Journalism, actual journalism, is important enough that someone is inevitably going to do it whether CNN and Newsweek and the Washington Post want to or not. I'll start watching cable news and reading newsmagazines again when they start lining up with reality. Except for Fox: it's off the list whether it ever lines up with reality or not. Which it never will.
3 We do, weirdly, seem to think somewhat alike, about a lot of stuff. Or at least we phrase things in similar ways and seem to make similar assumptions. Whether this is necessarily evidence of thinking alike, I don't know, but it sure seems like it sometimes.


Anonymous said...

No! Time to draw a line in the cacti-succulent growing medium.

When I write to the newspaper or my reps, I may refer to my job but I don't use it as a return adress!

You have gained readers like myself in such a short time because of your candid- candidacy- keepin it real.

Don't go down that slippery slope, no matter how tempting the bromelaid just...out... of... reach...

- Anne N.E. Mouse

mss @ Zanthan Gardens said...

One of the difficult things in writing a blog is gauging audience. In a letter, the writing is private and directed to a known audience. In a book, the writing is public and directed toward a target audience. But in a blog, the writing is semi-private; that is, you start a conversation with people that reply via comments. After awhile you feel like you are writing to them and it is easy to forget that shadowy audience, known as lurkers. Some lurkers are benign and just too shy to comment. Other less so.

Parents, children, employers, ex-boyfriends, ex-wives, and neighbors all have access to the public writing that is your blog. For that reason I never identify any of my friends or family by name or post their photos. Although realizing that can have a dampening effect, can make one self-edit, it is important to remember that blogs are more public than private...sort of like our behavior in a shopping mall.

People have been fired for what they've written about their employers on their blogs. Still that should not prevent you from writing candidly as long as you write honestly.

Sheila said...

I think you walk a delightful line between making us feel like we know what is going on at work, without getting yourself in trouble. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.