The Second-Order Effects Of Banning Political Talk In The Workplace
Welcome to my weekly Q&A roundup. (Scroll down to find the Q&A.)
If this is your first time here, welcome. I spend a fair amount of time speaking at events and conferences. At the end of my presentations, I leave space for audience members to ask questions—tough questions, brave questions, you name it. The level of candor and curiosity always inspires me, and I want to share that sentiment with you. So each week, I pick one question that I believe others would find most instructive and publish my response to it here.
The purpose of this weekly tradition is transparency and inclusivity.
Transparency: a behind-the-scenes look at my day-to-day.
Inclusivity: bringing others along in the journey.
How Banning Political Talk Affects Company Performance
Was Basecamp right to ban political talk at work? I have a social justice bend but I also recognize that there must be employees out there who just want to show up to work, do their job, and provide for their families.
When it comes to the workplace, you cannot NOT talk about what's happening outside company walls. Think about it.
→ Public policy directly impacts people’s lives and their opportunities.
→ Many companies say that “our people are our greatest asset.”
→ Since policy impacts people, policy impacts companies’ most important assets.
We have to stop pretending that conversations about work and conversations about “sensitive societal politics” can exist in parallel universes.
These issues are connected. They matter. And they will determine the future of business growth.
Thinking In Systems vs. Thinking In Silos
When the Changes at Basecamp memo becomes an MBA case study, it’ll be as much an exercise in thinking as it is in business management. That’s because the memo teaches us why we need to think in systems rather than in silos.
In the memo, CEO Jason Fried wrote: “We make project management, team communication, and email software. We are not a social impact company. Our impact is contained to what we do and how we do it.”
Let’s break down that last sentence:
What we do = product
How we do it = people + process
Fried seems to forget that people (i.e. “how we do it”) are connected to their environment.
People—me, you, and Basecamp’s employees, we exist as part of a larger ecosystem that spans the boundaries of government, family, religion, sports, entertainment, media, education, etc. We carry our lived experiences with us and these experiences make up our identities. It’s who we are.
So when Basecamp banned social and political discussions at work, they effectively asked people to turn off parts of their identity.
Asking people to compartmentalize and then suppress critical components of their lives:
a.) Discounts the interplay between policy and people’s lives—think: systems not silos
b.) Dilutes the value of diversity—since people can’t bring their full diverse selves to work
c.) Damages future growth potential—companies can’t stay competitive in the talent market
It’s tempting to want to brush “extracurricular” issues under the rug if we think they don’t directly relate to our line of business, but much of the world doesn’t work like that. Our world is much more complex, dynamic, and connected.*
People-first Workplaces Are The Future
Companies that want to stay competitive in the future will embrace the interdependence of people and policy. In doing so, they will architect workplaces where employees feel psychologically safe to discuss important, sometimes political, topics that impact their wellbeing.
If this sounds mushy, then take a look at Google’s massive research quest, code-named Project Aristotle, which set out to discover what makes the perfect team. Of the five factors they identified, psychological safety ranked as the #1 most important ingredient to team success.
And, companies that rank in the top 25% for culture (based on McKinsey’s Organizational Health Index) return 200% more money to shareholders than the bottom 25% of companies.
Culture. Psychological safety. Belonging. Inclusion. Sure, these might be buzzwords, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have implications for company performance.
As of writing this, approximately one-third of Basecamp employees have left the company because they don’t agree with the new policy. If your company is considering following in Basecamp’s footsteps, I recommend you rethink that decision.
*Systems thinking and interconnectedness also form the basis for gender mainstreaming, which is the practice of disaggregating the effects of public policy by gender and race/ethnicity. Gender mainstreaming acknowledges that women’s issues aren’t confined to a narrow set of policies. Rather, nearly every issue is a women’s issue because women are ≈ 50% of the population. You can learn more about gender mainstreaming here.
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© 2021 Katica Roy™, Inc.