At a company sales meeting earlier this year (back when I was still an employee), one of the sales reps and I came up with an interesting idea for one of his accounts. As we were explaining our premise, we were cut off mid-sentence as several members of (very) upper management objected to one of the words we had used. No, it wasn’t one of the late George Carlin’s “Seven Dirty Words” (also known as the “Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television”). It was the “R” word — recession.
I’m not kidding. We were verbally reprimanded for even suggesting there was a recession brewing in America. This, despite the fact that most economists and much of the national business media were addressing the issue. Why the problem? I’m not 100 percent sure, but if I had to guess, it was that we were somehow casting aspersions of a political nature (which I’ve been known to do, but not in professional situations like this). We eventually came up with Plan B, which was not nearly as targeted or relevant as our first idea. But if this had been an actual presentation instead of a sales meeting exercise, the client would have been shortchanged and perhaps a competitor would have gotten the deal.
Why am I telling you this? Well, it’s political season and you need to be careful about how you broadcast your political views around the workplace. In the past several years, more than a few business owners have gotten in trouble because their employees complained they felt pressured to vote a certain way. Depending on the profile of your business in the community, this can lead to public backlash. Witness the recent news about several Wal-Mart employees who went public with their discomfort about alleged “strong suggestions” from top management that they vote a certain way in November to head off a bill that makes it easier for workers to unionize. Wal-Mart has denied these allegations, but it still made headlines and could turn off customers.
Last year, career Web site Vault.com conducted a survey that found that 35 percent of bosses were not shy about sharing their political beliefs with their staff and 9 percent of employees felt pressure to follow their boss’s views. Apparently, political discourse runs rampant in the workplace. Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed said politics is openly discussed by their co-workers and 30 percent reported a co-worker attempted to influence their vote. One employee surveyed reported that he even felt his job was in jeopardy. “My boss insisted that he had to know who I voted for in the election,” he said. “Then he proceeded to tell me that if I didn’t vote his way, I had no business working for the company.”
As I said, this can be potentially dangerous (or at least detrimental) to your business. So aside from keeping your own views to yourself, what else can you do? Littler Mendelson, one of the country’s largest labor and employment law firms, has a few suggestions:
- Limit employee political activities in the workplace. Prohibit political activities, like campaigning, during business hours.
- Adopt and enforce a no-solicitation/no-distribution rule that limits soliciting support for and distributing literature about political activities.
- Be careful not to get too heavy handed. While you are completely within your rights to restrict political activity at work, you have absolutely no business telling people what to do in their off hours.
Remember, you’re the boss of your employees’ jobs, not their lives. You’re entitled to your views and they’re entitled to theirs. Trying to inflict your politic beliefs on others can affect your bottom line and cost you respect within your community or industry, as well as from both employees and customers. And besides, it’s not really the American way.
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