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Should employees discuss politics at work? Two big tech companies just said, ‘No.’

Talking about politics at work can be a really touchy situation. It’s good for people to be able to express themselves in the office. But it can lead to serious tension when people don’t see eye-to-eye. It can be especially difficult when a company takes a hard line on a controversial issue that employees are forced to stand behind.

So Basecamp, a project management software company based in Chicago, has just decided to ban talking about politics at work altogether. It seems the company tried to foster an open atmosphere but it backfired.

“Sensitivities are at 11, and every discussion remotely related to politics, advocacy, or society at large quickly spins away from pleasant,” co-founder Jason Fried wrote in a post on the company website.

In a world where everything has become political, Fried believes this gives people the freedom to stay out of the fracas. “You shouldn’t have to wonder if staying out of it means you’re complicit or wading into it means you’re a target,” he wrote.

“By trying to have the debates around such incredibly sensitive societal politics inside the company, we’re setting ourselves up for strife, with little chance of actually changing anyone’s mind,” Basecamp partner David Heinemeier Hansson wrote in a follow-up blog post.

Basecamp’s decision brings up a big debate in the world of business: Should companies feel compelled to do social good? Basecamp says no.

“We make project management, team communication, and email software. We are not a social impact company,” Fried said. “We don’t have to solve deep social problems, chime in publicly whenever the world requests our opinion on the major issues of the day, or get behind one movement or another with time or treasure. These are all important topics, but…they’re not what we collectively do here.”

Basecamp’s decision mirrors one that Coinbase, the cryptocurrency marketplace, made last October. The company’s CEO, Brian Armstrong, told his employees that he won’t stand for any politics at the office and offered those who disagree a generous severance package.

“Life is too short to work at a company that you aren’t excited about. Hopefully, this package helps create a win-win outcome for those who choose to opt out,” he said.

Some worry that a ban on political speech in the office creates an environment where marginalized people aren’t allowed to speak out for fear of it being deemed political.

The big problem with banning politics from the work floor is that every topic can be avoided by branding it politic… https://t.co/SkLoyJVN2R

— Jonas Drieghe (@jonasdrieghe)
1619469639.0

While others agree with the move because professionalism often means putting our personal lives aside to do what’s best for the company.

Some will say that if you don’t like your company’s political culture, then find another job. But that’s a lot easier to say than do. Most of us don’t have the freedom to work anywhere we choose, so we have to put up with a company’s stances or lack thereof, whether we like it or not.

The deeper problem appears to be that the company has given up on any attempts to foster an environment where people can talk openly because as Fried writes, any political discussion “quickly spins away from pleasant.”

While banning political speech is one way to stop the tension, it seems rather limited. Why not foster a culture where people can discuss sensitive issues in a constructive way?

Asana co-founder Duston Moskovita has some good suggestions on how to make that happen.

Some companies think political discussions belong in any part of their work space. Others feel they get in the way of other communication.

A suggestion to reject false trade-offs: actively create spaces for these conversations.
— Dustin Moskovitz (@moskov) April 26, 2021

At Asana, this primarily takes the form of employee resource groups. We have them for many kinds of identity, and some spaces are for those groups only and some are ally-friendly. They each have Asana team pages (with projects, e.g. to share articles) and Slack channels.
— Dustin Moskovitz (@moskov) April 26, 2021

We readily create more dedicated channels in Slack like #americanpolitics, #climate-change, #coronavirus, etc.

(We also have #canadapolitics, but it’s… not the same.)
— Dustin Moskovitz (@moskov) April 26, 2021

When shocking events happen, people need to be able to share and process their feelings together. So we create dedicated live venues, like an open-mic zoom.

Before COVID, we did this in person (and encouraged smaller events in our other offices if someone was interested).
— Dustin Moskovitz (@moskov) April 26, 2021

We do *nothing* to restrict speech elsewhere, but I rarely see it. The conversations that are happening do not get in the way, and everyone is more effective for having access to them.

People bring all their feelings to work, even if you don’t let them show. Let them show.
— Dustin Moskovitz (@moskov) April 26, 2021

I want to be clear, none of the above is about the company itself taking a stand. Asana chooses to, in certain areas, and many other companies do not, or choose different areas. I don’t know where that’s headed, but I see it as separate from how employees talk to each other.
— Dustin Moskovitz (@moskov) April 26, 2021

Source: Upworthy
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