How much election coverage should your co-workers really be covering?
It’s safe to say that the hype of the upcoming U.S. presidential election isn’t going to die down anytime soon. The dust barely had time to settle from Barack Obama’s acceptance speech at last week’s Democratic National Convention before the drama surrounding Sarah Palin, John McCain’s newly announced vice presidential candidate, caught on media fire.
Update: Sarah Palin to give what some are dubbing the “speech of her life” tonight at 10:30 EDT…
As I’ve been watching both DNC and RNC speeches, I’ve begun thinking more about the effect of the upcoming election on our workplace conversations. What makes for stimulating conversation by the water cooler – and what makes co-workers want to throw said water cooler at you?
Where do you draw the line during such a provocative time in our world, when people are eager to share ideas and opinions about what’s going on outside of the office? After all, what happens in November’s presidential election will affect us personally as well as professionally. Should workplaces look the other way and pretend that an exciting and historic election is not taking place in two months, or should they accept that their employees are going to talk about more than the weather from now until November – and respond accordingly?
With our lives so interconnected in today’s world via the Internet, social media, email, texting, and a myriad of other technology, we’re also exposing ourselves (most of us figuratively, not literally) more than ever before. And to a large extent, we’re voluntarily doing so. Many of my co-workers are on Facebook, for example, and have chosen to freely reveal their political views to their 36 or 360 “friends.” What kind of impact does this have on workplace relationships? What kind of biases are our co-workers forming based on these political opinions, unbeknownst to us?
I wonder if we’re revealing too much personal information to co-workers, or if the workplace has actually shifted to accommodate more personal relationships and formerly taboo topics such as politics. With work/life balance now of great importance to many workers, maybe we’ve simply become more comfortable with revealing aspects of our personal lives to those we work with. Work, after all, is the place we spend 40+ hours at every week, and now with many employees working through the weekend, the line between work and home life has become blurred.
But as Bruce Weinstein, Ph.D. (also known as “The Ethics Guy”), stresses in a BusinessWeek article, that there are certain things that just aren’t appropriate to spew about while gulfing down your ham sandwich in the lunchroom. As Weinstein contends, talking politics often leads to talking about deeper political (and hot-button) issues that are extremely divisive and can affect co-workers’ relationships and ability to work well together. And for the most part, he says, where you stand on most particular political issues has no bearing on the job you are doing – or your ability to do it. What starts off as friendly in-office political banter is likely to raise tensions sooner or later, and may cause people to become negatively biased against those who happen to hold a political view that doesn’t sit well with them.
So what’s off limits and what’s fair game? Should you decorate your cubicle or office with Obama/Biden paraphernalia? Can you forward that pro-McCain email to a group of oh, 20 or so unsuspecting co-workers? Do you really want to get into a heated conversation about the presidential contenders’ health care policies while taking a smoke break outside with Greg from accounting?
Or should we trade our Obama-McCain-energy-abortion-oil-education-health care-Iraq-tax opinions only while at dinner with friends, on the living room couch with family, on the treadmill with the stationary cycler next to us at the gym (I suggest this only for the truly skilled), or even with strangers on the bus – and save our Stop the Drama, Vote for Obama and McCain Bringing the Pain t-shirts for a special night out?Related
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