Why Glaxo's Internal Ban on Online Pharma Gossip Is a Bad Idea

Last Updated May 14, 2010 11:23 AM EDT

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) president Deirdre Connelly has blocked her company's computers from accessing CafePharma, the notorious anonymous bulletin board that is heavily read by pharmaceutical workers. The move is not a smart one: Staffers at GSK's HQ are now cut off from a useful source of information on their competitors.

In 2007, when Connelly was at Eli Lilly (LLY), she called CafePharma one of those "outlets for people who don't have the courage to speak out with their ideas."

The CafePharma ban has done nothing to stem the tide of people visiting the site, of course. Employees can still access it on their iPhones or personal laptops. It's 10.40 a.m. as I write this, well into the work day, and the GSK board shows 53 live visitors -- a far higher number than usual. (CafePharma should probably thank Connelly for the extra traffic.)

While CafePharma is filled with gossip, libel, rumor, insults, and crude language, it provides one invaluable tool for management: It accurately telegraphs which issues at a company are hot buttons for staff. Even better, it telegraphs which issues are hot buttons at your competitors. As one commenter wrote:

If the pharm leaders were smart enough, they could easily sift through the crap and get to the cream. I've read and written (hopefully? :=)) very insightful posts along with invaluable wisdom regarding the pharm sales biz here on CP. Not only that, the idiots here also give away many tricks of the trade and ultimately educate the management on our shenanigans. It's like spying on yourself. Those idiots are extremely useful, and even worse, FREE OF CHARGE to management. If that clown from Lilly is too arrogant and/or stupid to understand this, then I see nothing has changed at the top of the pharma foodchain. Just par for the course, imo.
Not everyone agrees that Connelly is encouraging courage:
If you want people to speak their minds and not feel threatened in doing so, then create a culture where intimidation and retaliation are not the standard.
Another commenter pointed out that although your work computer "feels" like your personal property, it isn't:
Do you hear how stupid you sound? You're on company time, using company equipment to goof off. GSK has every right to block CP or any other site. Plus, anybody stupid enough to log onto CP with company equipment needs to be fired.
And this writer worried that managers sometimes take CafePharma too seriously:
I work with a small company and one problem with CP is that the most senior managers DO read the posts. They take them way too seriously and forget what is posted is often the whining of a few and not always representative of the group. It's good for them to read it but they don't always filter it appropriately or assess if it has any validity.
Bottom line: Connelly is now piloting her plane with one less dial on the dashboard in front of her.

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Image by Flickr user stars alive, CC.