Civil and Civility
Politics in the Workplace
Table of Contents
Our article follows Joan, a mid-level manager at a marketing firm, Clarion, located in Denver, Colorado. Recently, a new mid-level manager had been hired away from a rival firm in Chicago, Marcus. He comes in with the goal of meeting everyone at the firm, and one of the topics that he discusses with each, is politics. The main topics Marcus brings up are the upcoming presidential election of 2004. Currently United States is involved with in Afghanistan, and the economy is on the verge of collapse. Previously, there was not much talk about politics in the workplace until Marcus’ hiring. Since then, everyone has been openly discussing their viewpoints, shifting the workplace climate. This is causing conflicts between the employees, as lines are being drawn in the sand and everyone taking a side.
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Joan is becoming increasingly aware of the problems that are popping up at her company, what was once a well-working team is now becoming divided as people take sides in the upcoming elections. Joan is watching these conflicts unfold as people openly express their opinion, something that was uncommon. Co-workers are more aware of these differences, what should be treated as friendly discussions are now taken as personal attacks of their opinion. There is a loss of group cohesion, trust between co-workers is devolving, and some employees acting out on their own instead of talking to their managers/HR. Further, emails that were once only used for work-related items have been infiltrated—albeit by accident—by politics. With productivity lowering and the increasing workplace toxicity, Joan needs to step in and stop these behaviors before the conflicts divide employees instead of bringing them together.
With the age of social media, people are never completely “off the clock”. Any photo, belief, reaction or viewpoint can be traced back to the owner. People are easily searched, and a screenshot is all it takes to ruin a reputation. It used to be your own reputation that was at stake, but with people putting their workplace information on their bio’s it ties who they are as a person to the company they work for. Now your opinion can ruin your company’s reputation. With our case, Dominique publishes an article which is strongly worded against the presidential administration at the time, although she never states that she represents the opinion of the company, if a prospecting client or a current client comes across the article, they could take their business elsewhere. CBS fired Hayley Geftman-Gold for her grossly inappropriate Facebook post following the deadly Las Vegas shootings in September 2017 [Exhibit 3.1]. She posted “I’m actually not even sympathetic because country music fans often are Republican gun toters.” CBS told Fox News that Geftman-Gold “who was with us for approximately one year, violated the standards of our company and is no longer an employee of CBS. Her views as expressed on social media are deeply unacceptable to all of us at CBS. Our hearts go out to the victims in Las Vegas and their families.” (Flood, B.) In the Fox News article, they found that she had posted on her LinkedIn bio that she was a lawyer for CBS news and she graduated from Columbia University law school. Potentially ruining the reputation of both CBS News and Columbia University.
A company’s reputation is only as good as their employees, employees are the ones interacting directly with customers; employees are the face of the company. As people post to social media, they need to remember that they are the face of a company, even when they’re not at work. Joan’s company could establish policies that would protect the company name. Companies may not regulate what people post, but they can ask that you don’t publish your work information on social media sites if you want to post bold statements. People who link their Facebook, Twitter with their LinkedIn could be asked to keep their work history private or not link those sites together. It was touched on at the end of our case, but it seems that the most obvious action to take is to implement a zero-tolerance policy on politics and social media stances in the workplace. This will help reduce harm to the workplace environment, while also maintaining the company’s reputation. When management find employee post with remarks that don’t reflect the opinions of the company, they could take disciplinary action or even terminate their employment. Joan would need to get the approval from legal, but companies across the U.S. have already taken similar actions when employees danger company reputations.
Talking about the upcoming presidential elections and the growing concern for the political environment should have been kept to the water cooler. With the availability for instant communication, it makes it a lot easier to communicate with a larger audience easier and more effectively. Chain emails about the election should have never happened at Clarion. The use of emails in the workplace for personal reasons should remain outside of the work hours and with personal emails. Emails in the workplace are a way to communicate topics related to work with other employees, not to push personal propaganda. Joan should use what happened here to give a small lecture to the employees about “Netiquette”. Within her lecture, she can include examples of what is and is not appropriate in the workplace. According to SHRM online communication can increase the possibility of cyberbullying. The chain messages clearly got heated as the debate continued throughout the workday, getting more aggressive and personal. Clarion employees were attacking their co-worker’s viewpoints. In an interview with SHRM Online Robyn Bartlett stated, “People experience neurological changes when they’re bullied at work”. (Wright, A. D.) In the same article Teresa Daniel, stated that adult cyberbullying increases absences and medical costs due to the increases stress. She also states, “It can also poison and organization by undermining employee morale and by eroding any sense of loyalty, trust or teamwork.” (Wright, A. D.)
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Joan needs to find a way to strengthen employee relations, one way is behavior modification. By showing them about a video about cyberbullying and allowing an open platform for people to confront others when they feel the trust and cohesion decreasing. Clarion needs to set policies on acceptable behavior and counsel people to recognize when they need to take a step back and realize that it’s easier to type the words. Management will also need to be involved to help employees recognize when they make mistakes and rectify with their co-workers. We all know it’s easy to type out an email and say whatever you want, but Joan needs to ask her employees if they would still be comfortable saying those things, if they said it to someone’s face? If employees continue to act aggressively online, disciplinary actions might be necessary, and termination may be a result.
Labor strains have clearly developed due to information that Joan became aware of during her talk with the company CEO, Barney. Near the end of their discussion, Barney began naming individuals in the company who had joined him for political volunteering opportunities. As Joan heard these names, one thing became troublingly apparent. Apart from one person, they had all been promoted faster than Joan, whom she also had seniority over. Without question, this disparity of fairness contributed to the labor strains that Joan was experiencing. Further, hearing confirmation of the CEO’s favoritism sent a barrage of emotions through Joan’s head. Barney was not practicing authentic leadership, as his actions did not line up with his words.
Without group cohesion, businesses will struggle with productivity. When people are butting heads, they are resistant to working together towards organizational goals and objectives. It is the job of the manager to promote group cohesion and teamwork. This is an aspect that Clarion struggled with once political talk was brought into the workplace. Henry Ford once said, “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is process. Working together is success.” There were problems in HR’s handling of the growing conflicts as well with trying to get the team to work together. One employee, Carla, took her keys and scrapped bumper stickers in the parking lot, then confessed to HR after the fact. There were also the issues of the group emailing outside of work related to politics. All of this was dividing the workplace. To change these behaviors HR along with management should have stepped in and took actions to stop the downward spiraling of attitudes between employees. Joan needs to take a more assertive position, she could improve communication, increase productivity, and strengthen the team. Bringing the group together and having employees acknowledge their differences would be more efficient that taking it on case-by-case. As a group they could come to a consensus that it’s ok that co-workers don’t agree on political stances, because it’s more important for the business if they leave those differences “at the door”.
The workday can be stressful to some employees. Graph 8.1 shows the relationship between stress and productivity in a work day. The workday starts off fine, but little stressors can enter and affect the employee. It’s not new information, but one in four employees view their jobs as the number one stressor in their lives. Joan now needs to take steps to bring her employees back together. A good start would be to plan fun activities on certain days of the week, or at least a couple times a month. With the implementation of fun, little activities occasionally, Joan can make the workplace as close to a stress-free zone as possible. Another very effective way to bring people back to working as a team would be to have a company retreat. A day out of the office and in the sun, doing meaningful team activities, would show employees that they might have more in common than they thought. Building up their relationships outside of the office, can bring about positive attitudes bring back into the workplace when it is all done. The cost of one day of teamwork would greatly reduce the cost from productivity loss as well as boost overall morale.
Networking opportunities for businesses are everywhere. From simple interactions to acquisitions of full companies, networking is the fundamental root to business. In our case of Civics and Civility, Joan was met by a fellow coworker, Marcus. Marcus gave her two contacts of potential customers, that he met at a political rally, to apologize for a mistake earlier in the case. These two contacts can stem into amazing and new networking opportunities for the company. Networking drives businesses to grow and expand based on trust and relationships. The more genuine you are, the more other businesses will trust your company and will return for future interactions. Effective networking starts with research into what other companies could use your services. Making good first impressions are the key to making long lasting clients. It is important to keep it simple and direct, while hearing what the other business needs to achieve, and aligning those same goals with your own to seek synergy.
Not only does networking help the business, it also can benefit the individuals in the business. It has been said that you can never have too many friends. In the business world, this holds very true. Employees can meet and connect with other work professionals that could very well help them out in the future. For example, Joan could hear about a job with better pay and better benefits from one of the two contacts that Marcus gave her, just from making that connection and putting herself out there. You never know who you are going to run into and what they do, so make a good first impression on the people you network with and who knows what that might lead to. As a manager, Joan knows how crucial to a business networking is. She can increase company sales by incentivizing employees for new acquisitions, diversifying the firm’s portfolio. Employees that are more engaged in the work that they do are happier and more productive. Letting employees participate in networking events gives Clarion more exposure, attracting bigger customers and better future employees.
Joan finds herself in a precarious situation. As her political interest began to be heightened, the political fervor in the office began to grow as well—ultimately to an unhealthy level. She was aware of her boss’s political affiliations, only now she became aware of his affiliation promoting those who attended the same rallies even though Joan has seniority. Yet, as she leaves the room, her boss, Barney, leaves it up to her to make changes to the political tolerance policy in the office. Since the “unwritten rule” of a politic-free work zone has not worked well, there is a strong need for the publishing of workplace policies. Thus, Joan’s action plan is simple: Develop a new company policy that disallows company emails and workspaces being used for political correspondence or conversations. However, over time, if people learn ways to communicate their ideas, without discrediting the opposite side, it could be slowly introduced back into the workplace. Within the next couple days, Joan will need to post this policy on the bulletin board. Additionally, within a matter of two weeks, Joan needs to add this policy to the Clarion handbook. Apart from the handbook and the bulletin board posting, Joan will need to give a presentation that will cover the following: netiquette/cyberbullying, politics in the workplace, and how to handle differences. Since there will be quite a few stressful new changes to the workplace, Joan will mitigate these by adding “employee fun days” and organizing a team retreat. Though these steps may seem trivial, they will be well worth the investment.
Though the action plan Joan takes is straightforward, getting the employees to respond well to the new change is questionable. Quite simply, in order to adhere to new workplace policies, the employees will have to partake in transformational change. This type of change is difficult because it involves employees letting go of old behaviors (i.e. political discussion in the workplace, taking actions into their own hands) and adapting the new behavior—adhering to the new Clarion policy. Transformational leadership involves acquiring a great deal of support and employee engagement (Anderson, 2015). Joan must rely on Barney to help get the employees to respond to the new implementations. Since this won’t be easy, positive discipline would be the most effective form to keep morale up. The feedback that comes with positive discipline will help shape and enforce the new behaviors, employees will be involved in coming up with action plans, so they can recognize when taking things too far. Employees feel more accountable with changing their behaviors if they were the ones who set the change. If the first infraction is a mere accident, a meeting with the offender, Joan, and Gretchen will be needed, to discuss ways to recognize what led up to the offense, and how to recognize in the future opportunities to do it differently. If the behavior continues, a more formal disciplinary action may be taken in the form of written warnings. Repeated offenders may be terminated if their behaviors don’t change.
Footnotes / Definitions:
 Netiquette – The correct or acceptable way to communicate on the internet
 SHRM- Society for Human Resource Management
- Anderson, Dean., & Anderson, Linda A. (2015). What is Transformation, And Why Is It so Hard to Manage? Retrieved 12/04/18 from http://changeleadersnetwork.com/free-resources/what-is-transformation-and-why-is-it-so-hard-to-manage
- Bradberry, T. (2015, June 10). 5 Ways to Respond to Negative, Evil Emails. Retrieved from https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/246990
- Flood, B. (n.d.). CBS fires vice president who said Vegas victims didn’t deserve sympathy because country music fans ‘often are Republican’. Retrieved from https://www.foxnews.com/entertainment/cbs-fires-vice-president-who-said-vegas-victims-didnt-deserve-sympathy-because-country-music-fans-often-are-republican
- Heathfield, S. M. (n.d.). You Can Counter Negativity in the Workplace With These 9 Tips. Retrieved from https://www.thebalancecareers.com/tips-for-minimizing-workplace-negativity-1919384
- Managing Political Speech In The Workplace. (2017, May 22). Retrieved from https://www.employmentlawworldview.com/managing-political-speech-in-the-workplace/
- Stress and Productivity Infographic. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.business.com/articles/stress-and-productivity-what-the-numbers-say/
- THE CORE RULES OF NETIQUETTE. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.albion.com/netiquette/corerules.html
- Wright, A. D. (2018, April 11). What HR Can Do About Cyberbullying in the Workplace. Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/technology/pages/what-hr-can-do-about-cyberbullying-in-the-workplace.aspx
 Netiquette – The correct or acceptable way to communicate on the internet
 Society for Human Resources Management
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