Whereever you are in the world, politics is part of everyday life. We are all familiar with partisan politics, which is driven by political parties and practicing politicians, whose agenda is that of gaining and exercising control, in the governance of a country or state.
Politics is not limited to the national stage, as it pervades all organisations within the wider community, inclusive of the workplace. In short, politics impacts on the life of every individual. All citizens in a democratic society are empowered with the fundamental rights of freedom of association and freedom of choice. The right to vote is the cap to these fundamental rights.
In our workplaces, there is sure to be an element of workplace politics being played out. This is usually tied to the jostling for promotional opportunities. It becomes evident by the loyalty shown by some employees to members of the management or supervisory team, or by their willingness to show support for positions /or decisions taken by management, irrespective that such are challenged by others. The divided is often based on the charge that fellow employees are generally dogmatic.
Workplace politics can be described as unique in nature. Be that as it may, it is not expected that workers would be divided in the workplace by partisan politics. Partisan politics has been described by some as “nasty business”.
Others may suggest that it is a blood sport and or a game. This is hardly the image that right thinking citizens would want to present of a national activity; which at the end of the process of elections throws out persons who will be charged with the responsibility of leading a nation.
This negative image is derived from the behaviour of some of those who take to the public stage under the politicians’ umbrella. Some choose to malign, denigrate, insult and humiliate each other, and sometime take the opportunity to lash out at family members, friends and associates. The end result is that there is a smear campaign and the undermining of individuals and the political process. Some of the negative behaviours referred too, were very evident in the campaign leading up to the elections for the top post of President of the United States. The advertisements that were voiced as approved by the Republican candidate Mitt Romney, did appear to reflect such a negative tone.
If this caused a further divide between Democrats and Republican supporters, and left undecided voters to ponder more, one could well image the effect this is likely to have on relationships and unity in a workplace.
Partisan political divide in a workplace is therefore not desirable. Apart from fracturing relationships, it certainly will undermine productivity and hurt the image of the enterprise; especially so where employee actions are deemed to border on being offensive.
Along with these, there is the impact such has on the level of professionalism and the quality of customer service that is offered. Some may argue and rightly so, that such a state of affairs is more likely to exist where persons do not exhibit a level of maturity. This contention may however be countered by the view that passion, conviction and diehard loyalty can change the behaviour of a supposedly radical human being.
There is much that can be done to ensure that partisan politics does not overtake the workplace, especially in the heightened period of activity leading to a general election. Workers, in undertaking to act responsibly, ought to be guided by the fact that their actions should not be directed at turning the workplace in a war zone.
There is nothing that says that political issues of the day cannot be discussed, but it is expected that common sense would prevail. This should be underpinned by the fact that individuals accept that to respect the political views of others, is the correct thing to do. It is advisable that individuals do not resort to pressuring colleagues to join a political discussion or to support an expressed opinion.
As a rule of thumb, all employees should refrain from engaging customers and clients in political conversations. There ought to be a consciousness of how this can impact on the image of the enterprise /organisation. It is wise to limit political discussions to the break or luncheon interval.
In order not to inflame passions, it would be best if management does not encourage the posting of campaign posters, advertisements or any other form of campaign literature. Employees should refrain from using the company’s e-mail or computers in engaging the social media networks.
It is basically commonplace to refer to the election period as “the silly season”.
The appropriateness of this term may be justified based on the evidence of misguided and uncharacteristic behaviour by some individuals. Workers who attempt to turn their workplace into a political hostage camp, can only end up doing their personal reputation, image and integrity more harm than good.
Management should therefore move to protect the workplace from becoming a place of anarchy, as well to ensure that the corporate image of the establishment is not tarnished.
Those employees who seek to use the workplace as a platform for voicing their political rhetoric, and to intimidate or influence others to support their side of the political divide, should be discouraged by management from doing so. The wearing of shirts with slogans that identify with a political party should also be prohibited.
It is undoubtedly difficult to keep political debates from within the walls of the workplace. However, employees can follow the example given by President Barack Obama in ensuring that the standard of conduct does not fall below the baseline. He starts by showing humility, and caps his actions by demonstrating that he is dignified, respectful, civilised, mature and responsible.
* Dennis De Peiza is a Labour Management Consultant with Regional Management Services Inc.
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