The elections were over in November, but the political conversations continue in the workplace.
“How did this happen? I can’t believe he’s President!”
“When is Congress going to get over the bipartisanship and get to work?”
“Those Super PACs completely changed the game. All they did was lie, and no one held them accountable!”
“I am so angry about the political climate in Washington that I could burst!”
It’s not just employee conversations over the cubicle walls. Employers are talking politics, too. For example, David Siegel is the founder and CEO of Westgate Resorts, the largest privately owned time-share company in the world. He sent a memo to his 7,000 employees before the election stating that they need to worry about their jobs if Barack Obama gets re-elected. Obamacare and higher taxes, Siegel argued, are running his firm into the ground (Bloomberg Businessweek, October 10, 2012).
When should employees and employers feel comfortable expressing political views at work?
The Business Ethics Alliance held its fall dialogue last October about politics, business, and ethics. One reocurring theme was that political conversations at work are morally acceptable, as long as they do not take away from the real purpose of business. In keeping with this idea, the point was made that business leaders can, and should, educate employees about how to unify their voices on political positions that can greatly affect the stability of the firm or its industry.
So the bottom line is—stick to business. Don’t get distracted from business while at work. Focus, focus, focus.
But there is something unsaid here, some unspoken truth that is left out of this bottom line picture. This unspoken truth was beautifully expressed after the Business Ethics Alliance Dialogue by Stuart Chittenden on his SquishTalks blog:
“If businesses’ inflexibly require employees to engage only in subjects or topics that are…purely related to work, then the outcome inevitably is minimal breakthrough success for that business, a bland organizational culture, and impossible personal growth and fulfillment for the employee.”
Stuart helps us recognize the unspoken truth of the bottom line paradigm. When we focus only on business at work, we deny the human yearnings that deeply engage us. In one sense, being whole people at work is actually advantageous for business. Success in business can be measured by the numbers, but also by enlivening cultures and human flourishing. In other words, politics and moral distractions can positively feed business success.
Yet…is there more to the unspoken truth? I cannot help but press our reflection one step further…because thus far we are making the “business case” for why we should break through to our deeply held political and moral values at work. But what if, just what if, human dignity and flourishing is not merely an instrument for business success but is, rather, its raison d’etre?
And these human yearnings are the real source of the ethics that drive us to do and be better.
Breaking through to the real
Beverly Kracher, Ph.D., is Executive Director of Business Ethics Alliance and Chair of Business Ethics & Society at Creighton University’s College of Business.