The thought of business ethics and politics sometimes conjures up images of fat-cat executives working inside deals with crooked politicians in smoke filled rooms. But the reality is quite different because the ethical lessons learned from the intersection of business and politics are not just for these characters but for every worker. Sure, you’ve never tried to pay-off a politician or break the legs of a political opponent, but you most likely have struggled with how to function in a politically-charged work environment, to know your political limits, and to understand how it all fits together.
Whether you know it or not, many aspects of your day-to-day workplace existence are connected to the political world. Struggles between labor and management are political battles. Tax and employment policies that affect the company’s bottom line or the your benefits are fundamentally political struggles. How you express your politics at work and even how you vote are political decisions. Whether you work for a small business, a large corporation, or in a unionized environment you have to come to terms with the various political clashes that exist around you and be able to behave ethically.
The connection between politics and your employment is inevitable. Step back and see how our basic social order requires a political structure in place to make everything work. Business could not operate without politics because government policies directly or indirectly affect your job whether you know it or not.
As far as ethical responsibility goes, the company has the right to be politically active for its own survival but it does not have the right to impose its political views on its employees. Likewise, the employee has the right to take a political stand without coercion or fear of retribution from the company or coworkers.
Civility and respect must come first. You should place higher priority on the relationships with your coworkers than you do your expression of political views at work. Personal stands on hot-button political issues can divide people and cause more mistrust and animosity quicker that anything else. Don’t let your emotional attachment to your political issues drive a wedge between you and your coworkers. Relationships are more important than the short-term satisfaction you may get from articulating the “superiority” of your political views.
Although you should be careful when mixing your politics at work, you should not refrain from political activity. Part of being a good citizen is becoming involved in your community. You can volunteer, support causes and candidates, or run for political office. It’s your choice. These are noble endeavors that make your community work. However, you need to be aware of the conflicts of interest that can occur. Your time spent at work belongs to the company and cannot be used for political purposes. The company’s phones, copy machines, computers, and automobiles are property of the company and may not be used for your political endeavors. The same ethical principles apply here as to any other personal use of company assets or time.
If you do pursue politics, make sure you notify your company to make sure no conflicts of interest exist. Wear two hats and keep your business dealings and political dealings as separate as possible. When you make political statements, you need to be clear that you speak for yourself and not for the company or for other employees. Become knowledgeable of the rules and campaign laws for your area so that you maintain a clean, ethical reputation and don’t embarrass the company. It’s all about maintaining a healthy balance so that you are able to effectively serve your community in the political arena and manage other areas of life as well.
You need to become savvy about how politics affects your job. You should find out where the money comes from, what laws affect what aspects of your industry, and who the political players and stakeholders are. You need to become knowledgeable of your company’s political activities and know your rights. The key is to be current and understand the “whys” behind the issues, based on the facts and not someone else’s dogma. You have your own mind, values, and principles that you need to uphold while you work within a community of people. Maintaining balance and honesty is your responsibility.
Business and politics is your business. Your way of life and the success of your organization depend on it. It’s not just a job for the powerful and influential members of society, but a duty and privilege for every worker who acts as one small but important part in a much larger machine. Even the smallest part can affect the functioning and direction of the whole system. You may be more important than you think.