Politics and your Business

I’ve written previously about the almost impossible-to-avoid blurring of business and personal lives within social media. The pitfalls are many, the opportunities for rich engagement equally abundant, and applying thought to a post before the enter key (or post button) is always a good idea for a professional (or anyone else, for that matter, but let’s not try and boil the ocean).  In a similar vein, and with the potential for greater consequences is the mixing of politics and business.

My grandfather always told me to avoid talking about politics and religion in polite conversation. Did I listen to him?  Nope.  There are few things that escalate an otherwise pleasant chat into a vein-bulging, face-reddening, blood pressure and voice-raising event than expressing a viewpoint on either topic if it happens to contradict the perspectives of your compatriot.  Take that passion, add in social media, and as most readers will have seen for themselves, watch how fast a post on, say, Facebook, explodes into vitriol, without pausing at polite disagreement first.

The sort of engagement mentioned above is tough enough to navigate, let alone try and manage, but there’s even more to think about when it comes to mixing politics and your business.   The topic is a complicated one with lots of consequences, good, bad and especially unintended to consider.  If you’re a small business owner, there is an opportunity for you to take a stand on most any issue of the day, and frankly, not only is it your right, it demonstrates integration into the community, especially if it’s a local issue.  Even larger businesses take clear, visible stands on issues, ranging from bathroom usage to expressions of sympathy for victims of hate crimes.  While not everyone may like that rainbow flag waving on the flagpole outside the building, for example, it sends a clear message of support by the business that placed it there.

Things get trickier when you move from issues to politics itself, however.  Few thinking citizens don’t have some sort of near-automatic reaction when seeing a given candidate’s name on a bumper sticker on the car in front of them or on a lawn sign on a yard.  (Usually that reaction is, “what a nut job!  How could they support that #$%#%!”) We live in a world with a very, very narrow middle ground right now, and it’s in that middle ground where reasonable discourse resides.  So as a business owner, or an executive in a larger corporation, the question is, how much can you—or should you—allow politics to infiltrate the workplace?

 

It depends.  There are company policies, state and federal statutes that provide guidance for some things but not for all.  Often a business will host a candidate reflective of the owner/CEO’s particular leanings in the place of business.  The PR folks love it because it typically gets the company a nice photo opportunity, but it’s also a PR risk because of how polarized our politics are right now.  It is said that people vote with their feet, and many a business has seen that happen to them when they show a bias in one direction or another publicly.  Arguably these sorts of visits can serve to educate what is too often an electorate unencumbered by knowledge, but in practice they tend to reflect the one-sided political preference of the person or people in charge.  Employees can be put in a very awkward position of feeling pressured, even inadvertently, to demonstrate support even if it runs counter to their own leanings.  That tension causes stress, lowered productivity or even job loss.  The bigger the company the more complex the issue becomes, I think, and given all due consideration I advise keeping political support out of the workplace.  Issues, well, that’s a different matter, and industry-specific support for changes in regulations or laws are not uncommon, and consistent with the self-interest of the business and those who work there.

As a small business owner, while you’ve got a lot more flexibility to wear your politics on your sleeve, there are still those pitfalls to be concerned about.  That candidate poster you put in your store window, for example, defines your shop in a way that …trumps…your business’s positioning to potential customers.  Only you can decide if having potential customers shaking their heads and walking past is worth sharing your views, and I, for one, respect whichever conclusion you come to.  For me, personally, though, I’d be more inclined to finally take my grandfather’s advice.

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