Political Intimidation in the Workplace: It’s Just BAD BUSINESS!

Leaders should avoid influencing voting behavior of employeesIn Leadership Musings of a Skeptical Positivist, I do my best to avoid references to messy American politics.  It’s tough, as I personally have very strong opinions about most of the key policy issues at the forefront of this upcoming election.  Some have a direct impact me personally, as a business owner, an educator, a student, a parent, a sometimes patient, and a military veteran.  Others invoke a more moralistic reaction in me.  And yet, I think I’ve been fairly successful at keeping my opinions and perspectives about public policy issues to a minimum in my blog.  Why is that?

Because it’s BAD BUSINESS!!!!

Plain and simple, I can’t state it any clearer.  But some of the biggest and most successful (financially) business owners and Chief Executives in this political season have begun doing this.  Now, let’s be clear…the letters, memos, and emails have generally not been sent out, imploring their customers and clients to vote for a particular political candidate.

It’s pretty obvious why business leaders have avoided this step (although the Citizens United ruling in 2010 would actually allow it).  Quite simply, it would be BAD BUSINESS to potentially alienate nearly 50 percent of your possible customer base (possibly more, if you consider those who may share your political beliefs but who would find such a mailing offensive and inappropriate).  No, most business leaders would steadfastly refuse to send out such a message to customers.

And yet, the number of media reports of executives sending out just such message to their employee bases has been steadily increasing in recent weeks.  Why is that significantly different?  Oh wait…..it’s not!  It’s still BAD BUSINESS!

I don’t care what industry you’re in….energy, manufacturing, service, or healthcare.  The greatest asset to any organization is NOT its customers.  Oh sure, that’s who ultimately hand over the dollars for your products or services.  But they are NOT the generators of your profits.  Your employees are, plain and simple.  So, why risk alienating your wealth generators by poisoning that well with your own personal political beliefs?  Worse yet, why continue poisoning it by actively imploring….nay, intimidating your employees to vote in a particular way.

I’ll be honest, the use of the term “intimidating” is quite deliberate here.  But I believe it’s quite accurate.  When Koch Industries indicate in a memo to its employees the potential dire consequences to their company if a particular presidential candidate wins, it puts the entire Koch workforce on edge.  Trust me, no employees there wondered prior to that memo which candidate the Koch brothers endorsed.  And there’s no doubt that they individually stand to gain much more under a particular politically leaning presidency.  But it’s still BAD BUSINESS to assume as an organizational leader you know what would personally benefit or adversely affect the lives of your employees.  The compensatory gap between executives and line employees in most companies inherently put these groups in different classes of the voting public.  What will benefit business owners and leaders economically is different from what will impact their workers (in terms of economic policy, tax structures, and even foreign policy).

The point here is this….business leaders who cringe at the thought of distributing politically charged or directing messages to their clients should similarly step back and reconsider whether sending similar messages to employees is really a good business move.  To me (and this IS an indicator of my personal political leanings, perhaps) to do is ethically and morally inappropriate.  But even moreso…..anything that might easily alienate your workforce or negative impact employee engagement through feelings of fear or intimidation is simply reprehensible.

Promoting civic responsibility by supporting your employees’ rights and opportunities to get out and vote is good.  Encouraging them to be a part of the political process is admirable for any organization.  But playing the fear card in order to influence and, yes, intimidate how they vote…..well, it’s poor leadership and just plain BAD BUSINESS.

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