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Sprinkles in Opposition to a Workplace Ban

Two-fifths of American workers believe discussing politics at work is acceptable, or responded ‘Not Sure’ when asked (40%; Glassdoor/The Harris Poll).

“The scope of our global and national challenges is immense. Every day brings a new cause for outrage, a new community suffering, and a new cultural flashpoint that demands our attention.

Does that mean companies should just throw up their hands and simply focus on making as much money as possible? Of course not. Businesses are expected to stand for something, but they don’t need to stand for everything.

…The answer is focus. Leaders may feel overwhelmed by a litany of injustices, but the proper way to manage that is to “pick a lane.” If a company’s executives can identify a key issue area where they can bring credibility, then the company’s business model and external advocacy can intrinsically work together to solve the same problem…

… Importantly, focusing on one discreet issue area doesn’t mean you get a pass on race. I’ve heard too many leaders characterize Black Lives Matter as a ‘distraction’ from their core mission. Let’s be clear—racism is everywhere in our society. No matter the advocacy lane you identify for your company, fighting for equity and justice is part of it. But don’t lose focus, either. If climate change is your lane, make sure your efforts prioritize marginalized communities who experience climate impacts disproportionately. If you’re fighting for internet freedom, tailor your approach to support people of color most likely to experience online hate and privacy violations.

The only companies left flailing are those—such as Basecamp and Coinbase—that lack a coherent track record of action to create value beyond the almighty dollar.”

Adam Fetcher (published in Fast Company); senior advisor at Purpose; formerly global comms director for Patagonia and senior director of brand advocacy for Lyft; served in the Obama administration as deputy national press secretary for President Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign and press secretary for the U.S. Department of the Interior.

“While the executives’ public-facing posts make it sound like the company (and all of its 60-odd employees) was somehow awash with uncontrollable off-topic partisan division, insiders are telling a different story. According to employees, the saga actually started when employees began to balk at a running, 10-year old list of customer names being consistently shared among customer service reps because some of the names “sounded funny.” As a cultural reckoning over race, speech and corporate responsibility grew, employees wanted to apparently have candid conversations about mocking folks on the list…

… Some of the names on the list were laughed at for harmless reasons. But given some of the names on the lists were of Asian and African decent, some employees felt uncomfortable. So in other words, the “ban on politics” was really a ban on having basic internal conversations about the company’s own juvenile behavior and whether Basecamp could do better as a company.

It should be obvious that it’s unrealistic to believe that in an era of daily police brutality, racist violence, mass shootings, a plague (and idiotic politicization of said plague), rampant corruption, and life-threatening climate change triggered events, that “don’t talk about reality on your work accounts” is a serious and effective adult position you can take. Especially in an era where governments are seemingly incapable of meeting the needs of their people, and companies are often foisted into political leadership roles (whether they like it or not)….

… Someone who has a lot of power (CEOs making significant cash) telling others with less power and wealth to ‘not talk about politics’ is itself an act of politics. It’s also an act of wishful thinking that protects and defends the status quo, whether the folks making the restrictions understand that or not. It’s an act that prioritizes the comfort of those who think politics is a gross distraction. Folks who don’t understand ‘politics’ can often mean ‘I’d simply like to not be murdered for being black’ or ‘I’d simply like to have clean drinking water’ and that muzzling those worries at work is an additional kick to the groin.”

Karl Bode, TechDirt

“I’ve long given the same advice on the topic: People should avoid discussing politics at work, period. But if you’re going to do it, watch carefully for cues that your co-workers aren’t interested, and be willing to move on. Don’t assume the person you’re talking with shares your beliefs….

…But this year, that advice has felt harder to give.

Part of that, of course, is that the politicization of COVID-19 is hard to avoid when the pandemic is affecting so many aspects of work life….

… Part of it, too, is how much race, racism, and police brutality have entered the national dialogue this year—a good and necessary thing, but one that has made political conversations at work intensely personal and painful for many people…

… But the solution isn’t as easy as “no political talk” at work, because blanket bans can end up feeling like a stance in themselves. A workplace that doesn’t allow discussion of Black Lives Matter or police brutality isn’t going to seem neutral; it’s accepting, or even endorsing, the status quo…

… So, at a moment when everything seems political—and when some people need to talk about what’s happening in the world and others need space to work without talking about it—where does that leave workers who want to navigate this well?…

… It’s messy and it’s hard. I do think much of my old advice still applies—don’t push your political beliefs on a captive audience at work, and be aware of power dynamics—but a blanket ban on talking politics at work breaks down as a solution in light of the factors above.”

Alison Green (published in Slate); creator of the work advice site Ask a Manager and the author of Ask a Manager: Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and the Rest of Your Life at Work.

Sprinkles in Support of a Workplace Ban

Three-fifths of American workers believe discussing politics at work is unacceptable (60%; Glassdoor/The Harris Poll).

“Outside of supporting employees to do their civic duty, what benefit, if any, comes from the topic of politics at work?

Not much, as it turns out, particularly if the employee and their manager are on opposite sides of the political spectrum. In this case, employees are less likely to share their political beliefs, feel less supported by their manager, are less likely to think their manager cares about them as a person or believe their work environment is psychologically or emotionally healthy. The negative repercussions go beyond the erosion of the employee’s relationship with their manager. Openly disagreeing with the boss’s political beliefs can derail a career; 46% felt they would be treated differently and more than half of respondents believe discussing politics at work could negatively impact their career opportunities.

What is an employee to do when there is too much political discord at work? Move to a company where most employees share their views? Almost half of the respondents told us it is important to them to work at a company where coworkers share their political beliefs, and 42% told us they have considered looking for a new job because of the political beliefs of the people they work with. We also found a particularly concerning behavior pattern: Employees in the majority political group at an organization are twice as likely as those in the minority group to avoid interacting and working with others who are on the opposite side of the fence politically. So much for teamwork and supporting a diversity of thought.

Our analysis suggests that when it comes to discussing politics at work, there is little to gain and much to lose. Companies should continue to encourage and support employees’ right to vote, but beyond that, our findings suggest that encouraging political discussion and debate at work is a bad thing. Beyond creating some uncomfortable moments, political disagreements can erode the manager-employee relationship, one of the linchpins in the organization for building engagement and retaining key talent. Even more concerning is the potential to erode a diversity of thought in the organization at a time when most companies are pushing to expand diversity. This sends a mixed message at best, communicating to employees that the company supports diversity for those with the majority political affiliation, but not so much for everyone else.”

Sarah Johnson; Forbes Human Resources Council

“In fact, taking politics out of the workplace and focusing on profits are better approaches all around — not just for a company’s bottom line but for society, too.

The truly inclusive and tolerant approach is to let employees do their jobs without having either to hide their beliefs or participate in activities that violate those beliefs.

Arguably what ails America most right now is social division. The workplace is one of the few remaining places in our society where people with different views must work together to achieve common goals, but that comity will become more endangered if more companies adopt self-consciously political goals.

In choosing to focus not on politics but on good products — and yes, profits — Basecamp and Coinbase show that tech companies can sometimes be trailblazers by taking a page from the past.”

Allison Schrager; senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of City Journal

“Let’s be real. There’s pretty much no upside to your employees talking politics at work.

  • Individual politics are rooted in our own unique experiences.
  • People can become very emotional and passionate about their beliefs, and take it personally when someone disagrees.
  • With today’s increased polarization between the two main political parties, unfortunately, attitudes toward those who believe differently can be quite harsh.

This is especially true in a major election year when there tends to be a lot of anxiety about “the other side” winning, or when current events cause tension.

In an office setting, talking about these matters can be a recipe for disaster.

These conversations can be disruptive to a positive, harmonious work environment. You want your office to be a neutral space where everyone works together to achieve the same goals: Serving your customers in accordance with your brand promise.

Talking politics at work distracts from your shared goals and common purpose.

Instead, it can:

  • Create division and impair relationships that would otherwise be productive and collaborative
  • Result in a hostile, contentious environment in which employees bicker and hold grudges against colleagues who have different beliefs
  • Isolate certain people and make people not want to interact with them at all

When colleagues aren’t getting along, morale and productivity can take a nosedive.”

Roger Carbajal | HR Specialist Dallas, Texas (published in Insperity)