MIXING POLITICS AT WORK

December 17, 2021

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Politics are very polarized these days, and unfortunately that is bleeding into the workplace. This can be a challenge, but it’s solvable with leadership.

When faced with cultural battles at work, many executives’ first instinct is to make rules. For example, I recently saw in the news that the tech company Basecamp banned political discussions at work.

I get that this is well-intentioned, but it’s also a mistake. Rules about what people can or can’t discuss is the wrong remedy. People don’t like to be controlled, and you certainly can’t build respect by diktat.

In my experience, there is no substitute for a strong culture. When teams are aligned by values and mutual respect, they are more creative, more satisfied, and higher performing.

We already recognize that we should not say everything that crosses our mind. Free speech is good, but a healthy workplace also requires professionalism. Most people know that talking about wild parties would be inappropriate at work. The same principle applies to polarizing political talk.

There is no way to make rules about what is appropriate at work and what is not. The world is too nuanced for this to ever work. Instead, we need to empower and encourage individuals to build and maintain a strong culture. And lead by example.

For a culture to succeed, everybody needs to prioritize building bridges with colleagues and avoiding wedges that drive people apart. Sometimes conflict will arise anyway, but the answer is personal responsibility, not rules. Does this opinion really need to be expressed at work? And equally, do I really need to take offense? In a strong culture, people will say no to one or both of those questions.

Polarization is both a cause and an effect of workplace culture breaking down. It’s up to leaders to notice to lead by example and be strong caretakers of the culture.. When we screen new hires for cultural fit and model respectful behavior, that’s a key element of keeping up a strong culture. Care and consideration are more powerful than formalized rules.

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