Politics in the Workplace

With the 2012 Presidential election drawing closer, politics is a hot topic. People are eager to share their opinions and ideas on both candidates, as well as a myriad of issues. While it is acceptable and expected in a lot of venues, the workplace is not usually one of them. Remember–the right to free speech does not extend to the workplace.

The single most important thing to remember while socializing at work is that not everyone shares the same opinions. Keeping political conversation to a minimum is important to avoid arguments and hurt feelings. Alienating friends and coworkers is a mistake. While these issues feel pressing today, once the election is over it will be hard to mend broken relationships. Trashing others’ political opinions may be very damaging to your work relationships. Just like in life, everyone wants their thoughts respected, and coworkers are no different.

Sharing political views with clients is unacceptable. There is nothing worse than having the person selling you shoes or fixing your tires telling you who to vote for. Not only is it inappropriate, it is uncomfortable and can affect future business dealings. Keep politics out of the customer relationship. In today’s economy, it does not pay to lose any business.

Political peer pressure can work both ways. If a client attempts to engage in political discourse, how should it be handled? Politely sidestep the conversation and change the subject. Delicately laughing off or skirting the conversation, no matter how passionate you may be on the subject, is the most diplomatic path. Getting into a heated discussion can have a negative effect on future business, and rarely is losing the client worth it.

While your car may be covered in stickers and your yard may be a sea of signs, your office should remain neutral territory. In most cases, the workspace belongs to the company. Respect the office dress code, and do not wear political message tee shirts or campaign gear. Flaunting these rules sets the company up to censor you, and unless you are organizing coworkers union-style, they have every right to do so. If management chooses to keep the office space politics-free, that decision must be respected. Getting fired for bucking the system may feel like a win, but in the long run, it means you will be looking for another job and your last job reference will probably not be positive.

Though employees have limited speech at work, owners do not. An employer has the right to stump for candidates, pass out propaganda, and encourage donations. While this may be legal, it is not always appropriate. Some owners use elections as a time to educate staff on how government decisions and voting can affect their industry. Voting can change the future of their career and impact their lives. In other cases, an owner may just be pressuring staff to vote for his or her party based on their own personal ethics. While the former reason can be important to protect a business and jobs, the latter can be seen by employees as an abuse of power. Even though both are legal, it is important for employees to respect those in management in order to maintain a positive working environment. Consider employees’ positions and feelings before bringing politics into the office. Is it really the appropriate venue?

Owners hire employees to do one thing: work. Often, current events create a distraction from the task at hand. During an election year, there is nothing more popular than politics. Employees spend a lot of time “around the water cooler”, but it is important to remember that some topics are not workplace appropriate. Keep politics away from the office and stay focused on the job. Use personal time to stump for your party and paid time to do your job.