I’ve recently started re-reading one of my all-time favourite books, A Man in Love (My Struggle Book 2) by Karl Ove Knausgard. It may sound like a romantic book but, in fact, it is brutal. No other word can reflect and sum up this book in its lengthy entirety: brutal.
Basically, the book acts as a stunningly honest portrayal of his life as an adult in his twenties and thirties. However, unlike most autobiographies, which tend to focus on the more positive moments (and dress down, or ignore, the challenging moments), Karl Ove tends to do the opposite and focus on the most embarrassing and horrific moments of his life and more quickly jump over the happier parts. It is the opposite to usual and reflects the author’s seriously pessimistic, and sometimes depressive, thoughts about life and his mostly standard attitude of not wanting good things because, eventually, they will turn bad and, instead, tending to focus and almost embrace sad and lonely periods.
I bought a Kindle five years ago and, since, I’ve read around 500 books (both physical and digital). I queried that figure briefly but, after thinking about it, I believe 2 books a week might even be a slightly conservative estimate. Due to this, it takes something quite special and ‘out there’ within a book to stand out and, during my lunch break yesterday, this book did just that – the time flew and I almost fell into the book, his reflections were that strong and powerful. You know a book has a gripping effect when the sound of a noisy cafe evaporates and your mood changes along with the author’s written mood. Just wow. If you want to learn more about Karl Ove Knausgard, a standard internet search will provide further information about him and his books.
Anyway, why am I talking about a book from a slightly well-known Norwegian author? Well, because after my most recent reading session, I wondered about the attitude of an English (or Welsh) employer to an employee having published a book about their life which, similar to Karl Ove’s work, was brutally honest to the extent of being almost being painful to read.
It is well publicised that nearly all employers are very protective of their reputation and wish to restrict employees from making negative comments about the workplace or colleague. Obviously, given that Karl Ove is a writer, he doesn’t have this problem (rather, when interviewed, he has admitted that he suffers the lasting effects of being brutally honest about his blunt feelings for, and disclosure of private events with, family members and friends) but what if an employee published a new book whilst within employment?
Well, let’s say that Mr Sterling works at an advertising agency in Liverpool. He has worked there for 10 years and, during that time, hasn’t mentioned his secret ambition to be a writer to anyone. Then, suddenly, he concludes a draft autobiography after spending 6 months writing at home and a publisher approves it. In due course, it is published and, due to Mr Sterling using his real name and being brutally honest, the advertising agency (and, more importantly, the people working for it) don’t escape mention and over half are affected by negative comments and recollections of private events in the workplace (and outside it).
Naturally, the advertising agency is going to believe that a pessimistic book in which Mr Draper clearly doesn’t like over half of his colleagues isn’t exactly going to help the reputation of the business and they are likely to have the potential ability to dismiss Mr Sterling if his actions are in breach of their confidentiality and/or disciplinary provisions. It is for this reason (albeit mainly to protect against online publications, rather than physical books) that most employers list the publication of negative comments about the business and/or ‘comments which may negatively impact the reputation of the business’ as a disciplinary offence (and/or potential gross misconduct) within their disciplinary policies.
Would there ever be a situation in which an autobiography similar to the above wouldn’t result in a disciplinary? Well, despite the evidential difficulties, if Mr Sterling could prove that the book was a success and, in fact, had led to the number of new clients doubling in the 2 weeks since launch, this may constitute a mitigating circumstance. More so, if the book was a huge success, the company most likely, from a PR point of view, wouldn’t wish to be seen to dismiss him for being honest and, adversely, may actually want him to remain to encourage new customers.
In this way, as per most disciplinary situations, the consequences of the action have a large amount of sway over the disciplinary sanction (if any) rather than just focusing on the action itself.
For fans of the TV show, Mad Men, this is a similar parallel with Don Draper writing the anti-tobacco ‘letter to the New York Times’ in the episode “Blowing Smoke”. For those who aren’t familiar, the Creative Director of an advertising agency which had relied on tobacco advertising but lost a major tobacco account decided to vent his fury by announcing in a public letter that the firm would no longer service tobacco clients in the future due to health risks (without first telling the other partners!)
Overall, then, I hope any avid readers among those exploring this article perform a search for Karl Ove and consider exploring his books (albeit I can only wholeheartedly recommend My Struggle Book 2, as My Struggle Book 1 took political correctness and threw it off a bridge by today’s standards) and, also, are aware that the reaction to an employee’s behaviour is near as important as the relevant act itself within a disciplinary process.