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Are Politics Appropriate Water Cooler Talk? Chicago Tech Leaders and Employees Weigh In

Monday, January 6, 2020   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Abbey Kwiat
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Lindsey Perez, VP of Operations, ITA

 

The next presidential election is less than a year away, and with a more divided country than ever, talking politics in the workplace has become increasingly common. Some organizations are fierce advocates of bringing your whole self to work - political beliefs and all - while others abide by a more traditional norm. 

Regardless of where your personal beliefs fall, it can be tricky for company leaders and employees alike in deciding whether or not the office is an appropriate place to dish about the last debate. In order to provide more clarity around what employees want and insights around how Chicago-land executives are handling the upcoming election, we surveyed ITA members to ask how their companies are dealing with it.

We found 31% of local leaders are unsure as to whether or not they should open a dialogue around the 2020 election, and 79% of Chicago tech companies don’t have a policy for political talk at work.

While a large portion of local area leaders don’t have policies in place and are uncertain on next steps, executives are split as to whether or not politics are appropriate water cooler talk. Thirty-eight percent of executives believe it’s important for employees to have an open dialogue, with one executive stating, “Avoiding such conversations only reinforces the notion that we are incapable of having fruitful, respectful dialogue."

Diversity is a key component of the tech culture, as it’s how true innovation is created. As such, being able to respectfully discuss and debate about differences in opinions is en-grained in many cultures of tech companies around Chicago. 

On the other hand, 24% of leaders said political conversations should be avoided altogether. 

“Our purpose in the office is to get work done, and politics can create tensions and issues that prevent that from happening,” argued another local executive.

Despite varying opinions from upper level management, employees were less divided about how politics should be handled at the workplace. Nearly half (45%) said they believe it is important for political conversations to happen at work, with responses overwhelmingly defending an open-dialogue policy. Respondents said things like: 

  • “It fosters diversity.”

  • “Political beliefs can be a big part of who someone is, and someone shouldn't have to hide parts of themselves at work.”

  • “Respectful, open dialogue is healthy."


Culture isn’t a one-size-fits-all concept, and the same is true for handling the debate of politics and work. For some organizations, it’s natural to support healthy debate with guidelines for fostering respect of colleagues and differences. At others, political conversations aren’t a fit for how employees normally interact. 

In deciding whether or not a policy for open political dialogue is right for your organization, there are a couple of questions to consider. 

  1. Are your business outcomes significantly impacted by political occurrences? For example, could trade tariffs impact hiring, induce layoffs or financially impact employees? If so, politics could be a more sensitive issue, and should be approached cautiously with policies in place. 

  2. Do you have employees whose safety or well-being could be affected by the next election? In the midst of ICE raid occurrences in Chicago, some employers sent communications to their organizations allowing people to stay home or provided support by means of mental health resources or open door policies for discussion. While politics could be an especially sensitive matter for specific employees, opening a company-wide dialogue can be an important way to show support.

  3. What are your organization’s core values? If curiosity, innovation or diversity are part of your company’s values or mission, then conversations about politics should fit into the culture. Companies should provide reminders and guidelines for political discussions that occur in the office.

 

If you have thoughts about how politics should fit into workplace culture or how to establish a supportive and inclusive environment, the ITA would love to hear from you.

 Please get in touch with Lindsey Perez (lindsey@illinoistech.org) at the ITA to share your views.

 

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