Monday, May 21, 2012

The Politically Incorrect BOSS By Aundrea Y. Wilcox

The current political climate couldn't be riper for this topic.
  Office politics takes place in almost every business, and family business is no exception.  When non-family employees feel uninvolved, disempowered or like their rights and interests are ignored, the political arena intensifies.  They turn every situation into an opportunity to choose sides, which may not be best for the business.  The key to minimizing the negative impacts of office politics and maintaining a neutral workplace environment is communication. 

Have regular meetings that include non-family employees where everyone can suggest ideas and give feedback.  If there is a language barrier, offer to pay for lessons for non-family employees to learn the family language.  If that is not an option, at least have the civility to refrain from excluding non-family employees by speaking a language at work they cannot comprehend.  Your sensitivity will go a long way. 

When I lived in Atlanta, I worked at an Italian family-owned small business for three years.  For me, it was a constant struggle keeping the lines of communication open without coming across as intrusive or disrespectful.  I recall having a lunch meeting with my boss and his father (the CEO) and several other family employees at a public restaurant.  The conversation was mostly entirely spoken in Italian, so I was left out almost completely.  Nevertheless, I maintained my composure and smiled and nodded whenever I thought it was appropriate.  When the meeting was over (just lunch in my case), I had no idea until everyone stood up and headed for the door.  On the inside, I was upset and hurt by this situation, but I kept on doing my job (exceptionally well I should add) despite the alienation I felt, in hopes that things would improve. 

A few months later my boss announced he wanted to try a different career path, so he moved out of marketing and into the sales department.  Subsequently, I was promoted to Marketing Manager.  I had been patiently waiting for this chance, since I was told when I was hired that this would likely happen.  I kept the position for two years.  Eventually, however, I started hearing rumors that my former boss wanted to return to marketing, so it was no surprise to me when I was laid off suddenly.  As it turned out, outside sales wasn’t his cup of tea.  The marketing position that I held had been redesigned requiring sales experience.  Go figure!  
Actually, it was a blessing.  I learned a lot in the three years that I spent working for an international company, and I was able to secure a better paying job with more responsibility immediately.  My only regret is that I never got the chance to go to Italy, but maybe I will get that chance one day.
Government politics at work is categorically a bad idea.   What you do in the voting booth is nobody’s business but yours.  Likewise, respect your employees’ and customers’ political positions.  If customers don’t like what you have to say, they may simply boycott your business.  This is harder to do for an employee who may not have any other job option at the time.  Consequently, they may tolerate it for a short while, but they won’t put up with it forever.  And if you continue to beat them up about their political preferences and views, it can develop into a case of borderline workplace harassment. 
To protect yourself and uphold political neutrality, don’t allow candidate buttons, yard signs, posters, bumper stickers, tee shirts, or other political paraphernalia in or around the workplace.  Also, stop the distribution of any politically themed emails between employees on work time using work-issued equipment if you see it happening.  Bear in mind that what you watch on television or listen to on the radio at work also says something about your values and beliefs and it does matter.  If you have a T.V. or radio in your lobby or public waiting area, avoid tuning it to programs that might include offensive or politically-charged content.  Don’t leave the channel tuned to CNN or Fox News all day.  Mix it up from time to time.  It won’t hurt you to hear how the other side sees things once in a while—well, maybe just a little. 

Aundrea Y. Wilcox is also the author of the new book, Startup Savvy: Strategies for Optimizing Small Business Survival and Success.  To connect with Aundrea, follow her on Twitter @StartupSavvy, and Like her Facebook Author Page, StartupSavvy.  Visit for more insights and tips about small business ownership and management.

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