In the heat of the election season and as a life-long political junkie, I can’t wait for election night. It is always one of the biggest nights of the year around my house. Glued to multiple TV’s, tuned to every station (and now the Internet) I watch the returns roll in. Depending upon your investment in the campaign, the emotional highs and lows intensify. It’s even better to be at a party. Some friends ask why I don’t wait until the next morning to read the headlines. Would you turn off the TV before the end of the big game and find out the score tomorrow? This is an important political year full of excitement, so it’s easy to be engaged. We’re probably finding more people expressing their opinions about politics than ever before. But what about doing this at the workplace?

Political expression comes in a lot of forms. I have to admit I got a little uneasy when I pulled into my office parking lot and saw a bumper sticker that said something derogatory about meat-eaters. Now, I don’t have anything against my vegetarian friends, yet I do like a nice steak now and then. What might people think about the opinions displayed at work? Might they be offended?

What about expressing strong political opinions in a small office environment to co-workers and clients? Unless you’re working in the campaign office or at the legislature, this might have its limits. I did a little research on how well the workplace tolerates political discussions. We know that public employees (and many who work for private companies) have to adhere to specific guidelines. Those rules may include personal use of company computers and the wearing or distribution of political materials. In general, private, at-will employers have a great deal of latitude in how they manage their workplaces and what political tone they choose to set.

Even if the flexibility exists for employers, politics in the workplace can bring about workplace politics. There is some basic etiquette one can use to keep tensions down. How you handle yourself may depend if you’re in management or not. There appears to be a tolerance for conversations among co-workers, but managers are held to a different standard. A national survey conducted in May and June 2007 by Harris Interactive, found that nearly one out of four U.S. workers says they are uncomfortable when their top managers openly express their political preferences at work. More than a quarter of those polled said they don’t fit in with their company’s culture in terms of politics. The survey found generational differences between younger and older workers regarding talking politics at work. Seventy-six percent of younger employees (age 18-34) would share their political views, compared to 64% of those age 50+. Eight-four percent of younger employees were comfortable telling their boss which candidates they support. This is compared to 68% of older workers who would do the same.

So do you tip-toe around your passion for R’s or D’s? How can you inspire an excitement for politics at work while not creating unnecessary tensions? At a very minimum, you can create an environment that values voting. It is not inappropriate to inquire is employees or coworkers need registration information. If the outcome of certain ballot measures could affect your business or clients that could also be acceptable for discussion. Alerting family, friends and co-workers to important debates, forums or community meetings may also create involvement and engagement without appearing bias. If you’re in a politically charged environment that can be exciting, but what’s most important is that you vote, your vote is yours, it’s private and it’s important. I hope you’ll mail in your ballot and be part of this great process. Remember, on election night don’t call, I’ll be busy, unless you’re having a party…..

Author: Mary Louise Vannatta
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