In an ideal world all companies would be politically impartial – places where employees could speak freely about their political leanings, or not at all. For much of recent history the prevailing wisdom of workplace etiquette regarding politics was for employees to be smart about when and how they disclosed their political beliefs. Self-awareness meant being able to contextualize the appropriateness of one’s personal political beliefs within a professional setting. Today, that level of decorum is less prevalent, and perhaps even quaint.
I’m Okay, You’re Stupid, Wrong, and Evil
Our culture is now electric with venomous rhetoric and impassioned beliefs. People from opposite sides of the political spectrum struggle to, or simply can’t, get along. What, exactly, does this mean for employers? After all, workplace culture is defined by the collective behavior of its employees. What happens to that workplace culture – or the culture of an entire company – when two politically opposed groups harbor so much toxicity for each other that they can no longer work together efficiently? Considering that cognitive dissonance has poisoned our nation’s ability to think critically, are employees doomed to work only for businesses that are simply an extension of their preferred echo chamber?
Is the pernicious political climate so lethal that employees from disparate political parties can’t work together? Will companies that employ both Republicans and Democrats devolve into the same intractable morass of bickering that inexhaustibly plagues the U.S. Congress? And if so, what can employers do to remedy this profoundly corrosive problem? Yes, that is A LOT of questions. None of them good. Perhaps the answers won’t be as depressing.
Grown Ups to the Rescue… Hopefully
In capitalistic marketplaces, consumers decide the fates of businesses through their choices regarding how to spend their money. In the job marketplace, employees decide the fates of businesses by deciding which ones to invest their time and energy into. Companies with the most appealing work cultures attract and retain the best employees in their respective industries. However, today many top employees may calculate the political leanings of a boss or work culture into their matrix of what they find appealing, or unappealing. Unfortunately, the dye may have been cast in America, and the economy – even while thriving – may become as politically charged as the rest of our lives. We may be able to avoid the political vitriol at the Thanksgiving table, but to do so every day at work is, well, nearly impossible.
Employees are human, and humans – well, most of us – understand the important role politics plays in our lives and the lives of our friends, families, and loved ones. Of course politics is personal. Of course we have strong opinions regarding Republicans, Democrats, Independents, and every other political persuasion. Considering the important space politics occupies in all of our lives, avoiding those deep emotions and beliefs can feel like masquerading as a completely different person while at work. But we have to. It’s called professionalism, and the future of America may depend upon it. Acting like a grown up often means realizing you are not the center of the universe and it is necessary to curtail your words and actions for the health of the common good. Otherwise, we all lose.
But that may be exactly what happens if employers and professionals begin to align themselves politically.