The Changing Restrictions on Expressing your Inner Thoughts

by - 17:50

I started working for Homebase in November 2011 when I was 18 years old. It was my first proper job (if you don't count helping out at a local riding school on the weekends or a paper round at the age of 13 that earned me a whopping £4.68 a week) and I was so happy and excited to get into the world of paid work. In November last year I was promoted from Cashier (aka Till Monkey) to a Customer Service role on our help desk. I then had another mini-promotion to work in the kitchen/bathroom/furniture showroom which involved A LOT of training and increased product knowledge but did offer me the opportunity to make extra money through commission. I had been pretty much as happy as one could be in this role and before I realised it I had been working for the store for three years; I decided that I needed to change it up soon and leave Homebase to find work in a different retail environment. However this decision was effectively made for me when I was summoned into my manager's office this weekend for a 'quick chat'.

Both my manager and assistant manager were in the office but I didn't suspect anything as I have always been a dutiful employee and have never received any kind of complaint or disciplinary. To make a long story short: the social media team of Homebase had been searching through tweets containing the word 'Homebase' and had come across a tweet that I had sent almost four weeks ago which read "I have just served the grumpiest customer I have ever seen. I know Homebase is a bit bleak but I work here and even I can crack a smile. Jeez.".

They didn't like this. So they decided to find out who had sent it and which store they worked for. My twitter profile only has my first name on it and the only location that they could potentially glean from my profile or tweets is the fact that I attend London South Bank University. Anyway, through what must have been an extensive and intrusive investigation they finally found out my full name and that I worked at the Woking store. My manager informed me that there had been a VERY long e-mail chain going back and forth as they tried to 'pin me down'.

Without anything else, this immediately made me feel very uncomfortable. I don't include too much personal information about me on my Twitter and Instagram accounts because I specifically don't want strangers to be able to find out who I am or where I live. My Facebook account is very private  and there are actually two Georginas who work at my store so they couldn't have found me through a general search for Georginas who work at Homebase. I was told that there is actually no legislation on this type of matter so there's nothing they can do other than ask me to delete my tweet and  refrain from posting uncomplimentary comments on social media accounts in the future - both public and private. I eventually realised what this meant: the company I work for had effectively stalked me and were trying to enforce a type of 'gag' on me over one comment that mentioned a store that is effectively a metal shed with poured concrete flooring as being 'a bit bleak'.

As far as I was concerned this was the kick I needed to get me out of that company. I'll definitely miss the people I work with as they are the only real reason that I have stayed on there for so long but I can't work for a company who won't allow its employees to vent their frustration (be it work-related or otherwise) on a separate social media site that is in no way related to the company they work for. I also feel like the issue here is not that I commented on the actual environment of the store, but the fact that Homebase stores (as a general rule) are bleak and not particularly inspiring for customers or employees.

But this got me thinking: is the online world going to start becoming a place of restriction and gag orders? I am only contracted six hours a week and my personal view on a store has been taking so seriously that it has resulted in a four week search for my full identity. We live in a country of free speech and I have not signed any contract that prevents me from expressing my personal opinion on my workplace - either in person, via text or on social media - so I fail to see how any social media team should have any authority over what I post. Should it become the new norm that companies (especially ones that are a low-end corporation such as a DIY store) will have the power to control what their employees post on social media sites? I personally think that companies should work to resolve issues with their employees personally if they are complaining in any form rather than telling them to 'keep mum'.

I realise this isn't the most inspiring post but it was something that has only recently been brought to my attention and that has now directly affected me. I also didn't realise that a store that receives so many customer complaints from various social media platforms (just type 'Homebase' into any search engine to see the results) would be so offended by what I wrote!

Thanks for reading and I promise I'll post something more light-hearted next week. I'm going to Amsterdam on Thursday for my 21st birthday and I'm so excited! I'll try and blog about it for my next post. Until then, stay inspired!

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