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Posted at 07:30 AM ET, 11/02/2012

Small business owners forced to walk a political tightrope around employees

Ours is an open workspace with shared and common work areas. The purpose is to keep collaboration high and allow for sharing of ideas as we are often working on complicated tasks and issues.


Larkin takes time to inform her team about political issues but makes sure not to detract from their productivity. (Terry Renna - AP)
We also have a 40-year age range among our staff, which offers an interesting combination of personalities, practical experience and fresh ideas. Our company culture encourages comments and even disagreements as we work through business and client-related challenges and our business is directly affected by whatever administration and political party is in power.

Because we use open discussion in our business process, it is impossible to keep politics out of the daily conversation, especially when some staff members feel strongly about a candidate or issues that are directly affecting them, such as taxes and health care. As the business owner, I feel a responsibility to allow discussion and try to instill an attitude of respect in every conversation, even if it takes some time away from our productivity.

Problems arise when a colleague crosses the line into name-calling and party line rhetoric or when voices are raised above an energetic level. It shocks me how some people slip into a road-rage mentality when politics come into the discussion and I refuse to allow that extreme reaction to be a part of our workplace at any time. Fortunately, humor tends to disarm heated situations especially when late-night talk show hosts’ jokes are so readily available.

Staff tends to defer to me, therefore I am careful and try to maintain a non-partisan focus. After a few decades as a business owner, hearing election-based promises and living the actual administrations’ realities, my vote is now always issue-driven and I cross party lines regularly. I also take the time to communicate my views directly to our senators and representatives. Our team is aware of these communications and my views as to what affects business.

 As a business leader involved in a national non-partisan organization focused on small business issues, I feel that one of my most serious obligations is to foster responsibility and accountability as a citizen. I do encourage our team to learn about the issues that affect not just them personally, but also their communities and state.

Our policy is to encourage voting, on personal time, before or after work. I feel strongly that this is an individual responsibility that one has as a U.S. citizen. We do offer flexible time to deal with schedules, as we do throughout the year.

A pet peeve is to hear complaints about politics and politicians from someone who has not voted nor intends to vote. This is one area where my personal beliefs trump all else, and I freely state that voting and communicating with one’s legislators earns one the right to complain. Otherwise, one gives up that right to participate in the process.

It sometimes feels like a tightrope balancing act, offering education and fostering discussion, tempered with doing the best job possible for our clients and meeting critical productivity requirements when every single minute counts.

Gloria Berthold Larkin is president of TargetGov, a Baltimore-based firm that helps small and large companies sell their products and services to the government. She also is an educational foundation board member of the group Women Impacting Public Policy.

How does your company handle politics in the workplace — hush-hush or an open forum? Please join the conversation below.

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By Gloria Berthold Larkin  |  07:30 AM ET, 11/02/2012

Tags:  small business, advice, politics, election

 
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