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Monday, April 4, 2016

Hot Potatoes at Work

Let’s face it. There may have never been a presidential pre-season like the one we’re witnessing. And for many, the hope is that we won’t see one like this again. Even the not-so-political crowd can’t help but discuss the behavioral twists of the voices vying to be next in the White House.

It goes beyond mud slinging—a trademark of every election season. This year we’ve added insulting spouses to the picture. And in the case of one of the candidates, the spouse has enough of his sordid past to keep the gossip coming. It’s ugly. Tell me when November is over, okay?

Here’s the hot potato question: Is it okay to discuss political topics in the workplace? Is it almost too irresistible to pass on if one of your colleagues brings up a late night TV bit or a news channel interview?

I was a bit surprised to see that former GE CEO Jack Welch encouraged these discussions on the job. He admits to being a “political animal” himself. He also knows the vital importance that elections hold in shaping our future. He listed four guideposts to having these conversations in a recent Linked In commentary.

In short form, here are the boundaries he would set:
1)If you claim to accept diversity, “put your money where your mouth is. Embrace their differences, or accept that you’re a hypocrite.”
2) Share your political views in the context of a conversation. No just spouting off. Get input from your coworkers as to what they believe and why. “Engage in debate.”
3) Politics gets people emotional. “We stop asking questions and start making pronouncements.” It’s okay to disagree but if the head rises, “back off and turn on the collegial AC.”

And finally,
4) Work still comes first. Political junkies can sap time up quickly. Learn to dial it back. “You’re at work to get results for your customers and your organization.”

So does that settle the matter? Not at all! For a different perspective—typical of our disagreement of matters of political consequence—I refer you to a article from four years ago. This one is titled, “Talking Politics at Work Can Get You Fired.” Well, that would slow down the conversation!

Our story opens with an unfortunate comment by a politician about about “how women subject to ‘legitimate rape’ were unlikely to get pregnant.” Can you feel the sparks flying already? This became an office conversation that turned into office confrontation—including fisticuffs!

Was this “disagreement” sufficient to get the two workers fired? The employer called a labor attorney and was actually urged to let the employees go! Along with a possible sex discrimination issue raised as a concern, “the employer had a written policy that explicitly discouraged discussions of flammable political topics like abortion.” Both employees were promptly terminated.

Here’s a bit of weirdness related to the First Amendment “freedom of speech” of politics. The labor attorney states that the First Amendment offers broad protections in this area. However, exceptions allow private employers to “bar political discussions in the workplace.”

The Society for Human Resources in Alexandria, Virginia, determined that during the 2012 presidential election, about 25 per cent of employers had a written policy on political activities. Some included restrictions on political conversations in their workspace. Another 20 per cent had unwritten policies.

Public sector employment has different rules. And broader freedoms in this area. Go figure as to why.
It was also presented that employees who put politically charged messages in emails or on social media during the workday can be sanctioned. And get this. The political message does not need to be written or verbal. It could come in wearing articles of clothing or in the case of one worker, a Tea Party bracelet that she claims caused her to lose her job.

I talk about “politics” all the time at my job. Of course, that’s a given since I host a talk show. But there is even disagreement on whether political discussions have a place on Christian radio.

Of course they do. And here’s why. The basic definition of politics is “the activities associated with the governance of a country or other area.” Governance is about rules, policies, and regulations. Often, these policies define how our freedoms have limits. In other words, moral constraint.

But WHOSE morals guide us? I consider my assignment is to share biblical truth on issues. As a mentor of mine has taught me, all conflict occurs because of matters of the heart. Or said another way, “of the spirit” of man. Thus, they become…spiritual.

In the midst of this challenge to navigate conversations, it is important to remember the apostle Paul’s words to Christ followers: “Don’t quarrel with anyone. Be at peace with everyone, just as much as possible.” (Romans 12:18, TLB)

So avoid political hot potatoes as much as possible. And especially if your boss says so.

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app. 

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