Should You Discuss Politics At Work?

Should You Discuss Politics At Work?

Some think you should, some think you shouldn't. I assume most people don't care what their coworkers talk about—I certainly don't listen to or value the opinions of my coworkers.

I became interested in this topic when Basecamp, a company that builds project management software, banned political discussions from its workplace. The company announced the decision through a blog post written by Basecamp CEO Jason Fried. The post starts with eight paragraphs of nonsense, including a quote from a book published in 1954 about psychedelics and mescaline.

Once you wade through that, you get to Fried saying the following:

Today's social and political waters are especially choppy. Sensitivities are at 11 and every discussion remotely related to politics, advocacy, or society at large, quickly spins away from pleasant.

Are today's social and political waters especially choppy? Compared to what?

Fried continues:

You shouldn't have to wonder if staying out of it means you're complicit or wading into it means you're a target. These are difficult enough waters to navigate in life, but significantly more so at work.

Bold statement. If I understand correctly, he's saying social and political issues are difficult to deal with in regular life but way more difficult to deal with at work. Could that be true? Could dealing with Bob from accounting's opinion on the deficit be more difficult than life itself?

Fried continues:

It's become too much. It's a major distraction. It saps our energy and redirects our dialogue toward dark places. It's not healthy. It hasn't served us well. And we're done with it on our company Basecamp account, where the work happens.

There's a decent amount of hyperbole in Fried's post, but I imagine a lot of folks agree with the sentiment. Who wants to talk politics with Bob from accounting?

Fried goes on to say:

No forgetting what we do here. 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. We write business books, blog a ton, speak regularly. We open source software. We give back an inordinate amount to our industry given our size, and we're damn proud of it. Our work plus that kind of giving should occupy our full attention. We don't have to solve deep social problems, chime in publicly whenever the world requests our opinion on the major issues of the day, or get behind one movement or another, with time or treasure.

It's fair to assume the world isn't looking to Basecamp or its CEO to solve deep social problems, but it may be worth exploring that logical leap. Fried appears to be saying that if you talk about a problem, you're in charge of solving it. That must have been the rule my father's generation followed when it came to talking about feelings or sex, or really anything other than the chores that needed to be done.

I feel compelled to remind you, dear reader, that Basecamp creates team communication software. Seems relevant somehow.

Here's what Basecamp co-founder and CTO David Hansson wrote about this policy:

These types of discussions are so difficult, that even if we were having them at the best of times, together in person, with trust batteries fully charged, we'd struggle.

What is with all of the hyperbole in these statements? Why can't adults talk to each other without struggling? I'm not big on talking politics anywhere—work or not—but I don't get the struggle.

TechCrunch reported that Basecamp experienced a mass exodus following their ban on political speech within the workplace. Some reports say more than 30% of their employees left the company.    

In 2018, Jason Fried and David Hansson published It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work, a book they describe as follows:

Destined to become the management guide for the next generation, It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work is a practical and inspiring distillation of their insights and experiences.

In the description, more than once, they refer to themselves as iconoclasts.

I'm not sure what to make of the Basecamp stuff. Fried and Hansson make a living writing hyperbole. However, before Basecamp, an even more high-profile—and arguably more important company—Coinbase, banned political discussions from the workplace.

Some employees left Coinbase following that decision, but it doesn't appear to have hurt the company all that much. The company's leadership stands by the decision and claims its improved productivity.

There is something odd about having political debates at work. It's a weird thing to do, but I wonder if it's even weirder to be told what you can and can't talk about at work. Who cares? Aren't we adults capable of getting out of conversations we don't want to be in? Why care what your employees talk about?

I posed the question “Should politics be discussed at work?” on my LinkedIn page. My favorite response was, "Is it worth talking about really?" Great point. Is anything worth talking about really?

Another person responded with the following:

I can't envision leading a team, knowing they're buttoning up their true selves, whether I agree or disagree with the position of my teammates and coworkers, they're people first.

Fair point.

I think what I'm struggling with is the ban by management. Is that weird? Does that bother anyone else? Should it? Is this even an issue?

Personally, I think talking about politics at work is akin to publicly sharing your Venmo transactions. Just... why? But also, why do I care what others choose to do or care about or talk about? Why does a boss need to censor their employees' political views?

All I have are questions at this point.

What are your thoughts? Should politics be discussed at work? Does anyone care about this? Is this a problem?