Office policy: Keep politics in its place

| Print |  Email
Archives - September 2008
Monday, September 01, 2008
OfficePolitics

As the nation enters the boxing ring of presidential campaigning this fall, it’s not unusual for the jabs of political convictions to enter the workplace, too.

Casual political discussions among coworkers can become heated and, in the worst cases, can lead to full-blown turmoil in the workplace. Imagine the conflicting loyalties that can develop if bosses explicitly support a candidate or a political issue that others don’t.

Talking politics “is inappropriate unless you are at campaign headquarters,” says Mindy Lockard, an etiquette consultant based in Eugene. In the proper world of social graces, politics, sex and religion are topics that generally should not be brought up in a business environment, she says.

But that world may be long gone. According to a 2007 survey by Vault, an online career information company, 66% of respondents said their co-workers talk politics, while 46% said they witnessed an argument as a result.

Of course, nobody wants to take away your right to wear a poor-fitting Obama or McCain T-shirt this November. But for supervisors and human resource managers, it may mean carefully pulling the plug on a debate without being perceived as stifling opinion.

And that’s where companies need to be clearer, communication experts say. It’s the undefined gray (not red or blue) area of being too strict or too informal toward friendly political debates that can lead to trouble, says Robert Benjamin, a Portland-based mediation and conflict consultant. “In our culture we have strong feelings on standing on principle,” he says.

After all, Benjamin says, a little debate in the workplace stimulates creativity and competition. But the worst action a business can take is circulating a memo or stuffing a new rule into the employee handbook prohibiting such discussions. “It only pisses people off,” he says, and lets workers avoid taking responsibility for their social skills.

To avoid a political office brawl, Lockard suggests supervisors be more proactive by setting an example and talking with employees individually about proper discussions on the job. “There is no hard and fast rule,” she says. In a dire situation, Benjamin says a business should hire a communication expert.

To her dismay, Lockard says the business environment is becoming too casual. “You have to remember what you are there for,” she says — work,  not politics.  

JASON SHUFFLER


Have an opinion? E-mail This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


 

More Articles

Best Foot Forward

July/August 2015
Monday, July 13, 2015
BY CHRIS NOBLE

Whether you're stepping out to work or onto the track, Pacific Northwest shoe companies have you covered.


Read more...

Greenpeace (temporarily) prevents Shell oil ship from leaving Portland

The Latest
Thursday, July 30, 2015
hangersBY JASON E. KAPLAN | STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Greenpeace activists suspended themselves from the St. John's Bridge in an attempt to prevent a ship from heading to the Arctic.


Read more...

Storyteller in Chief: Natural Prophets

July/August 2015
Monday, July 13, 2015
BY SAM BLACKMAN

Storyteller-in-chief with the CEO and co-founder of Elemental Technologies.


Read more...

The Cover Story

Linda Baker
Thursday, August 27, 2015
01-cover-0915-thumbBY LINDA BAKER | EDITOR

How do you put a baby on the cover of a business magazine without it looking too cutesy?


Read more...

Is there life beyond Reed?

September 2015
Wednesday, August 19, 2015
BY GARY THILL | PHOTOS BY JASON E. KAPLAN

A storied institution climbs down from the ivory tower.


Read more...

Big Trouble in China?

Guest Blog
Tuesday, August 18, 2015
0818-wellmanthumbBY JASON NORRIS | CFA

Earlier this month, the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) announced they were going to devalue their currency, the Renminbi. While the amount of the targeted change was to be roughly 2 percent, investors read a lot more into the move. The Renminbi had been gradually appreciating against the U.S. dollar (see chart) as to attempt to alleviate concerns of being labeled a currency manipulator.


Read more...

Portland’s long-distance bike commuters

The Latest
Monday, August 03, 2015
Matt KellyresizethumbBY KIM MOORE | RESEARCH EDITOR

Pushing the extreme.


Read more...
Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02
SPONSORED LINKS