Tell me what you think. Here's the scenario:
A partner at a mid-sized architectural firm supports a particular candidate for mayor. Nothing wrong with that. Certainly people are entitled to hold political opinions. This same partner, we'll call him "Bob", has sent emails throughout the mayoral race encouraging his employees to vote and making his personal endorsement well-known. Okay, an email or two is no big deal, right? - easily deletable (although I have to wonder if Bob would appreciate receiving political endorsement emails from his employees in return…).
Early in the election, Bob went from cubicle to cubicle with voter registration forms to make it convenient for anyone who wasn't a registered voter. Perhaps he was simply being thoughtful; in fact, I'm willing to give him that benefit of the doubt. In a firm-wide Monday morning meeting, Bob announced AGAIN his choice for mayor and AGAIN encouraged his employees to vote. That same Monday morning, Bob called various (seemingly random) employees into his office to invite them to a $250-per-plate fund raiser event for the candidate of his choice. Now, despite the fact that Bob personally paid for the dozen or so employees to attend this political tete-a'-tete, does anyone else find his actions to be, not only highly unprofessional, but bordering on unethical? Or is it just me? Granted, I tend to become hyper-sensitive (okay, and little defensive) when people (especially people in authority positions) try to force-feed their opinions to me. And it's quite possible that I take these sorts of things far too seriously, but it seems as though some kind of commonly-held workplace understanding of privacy and respect has been breached.
Isn't it an unwritten rule that topics of politics, religion and sex remain untouched in the office environment, ESPECIALLY between bosses and employees? Sure, I've had discussions with co-workers that have fallen into these three categories, but rarely while in the office, and the keyword there is "co-worker"…not my boss. What would've happened if one of those employees had responded to Bob's invitation with something like, "while I appreciate the thought, I do not support that candidate's ideas, plans, or platforms and wouldn't feel right participating in a fund raising event."? Or, "I feel by attending this function and allowing you to pay for my ticket, this would compromise our employer/employee relationship."? Even if Bob were an easy-going, amiable sort of guy (which he is not), declining his offer would be an intimidating option by the very nature of the employer/employee dynamic, especially to those who are new to the firm.
Imagine if Bob went around the office inviting people to attend a particular sermon at his church on Sunday or encouraging everyone to celebrate a certain religious holiday. Or what if he decided to make a large donation to NOW and invited a group of employees to attend a pro-choice fund raising rally with the excuse that it would be a viable business contact and the possibility that we would have a better chance of being hired for future work?
Yes, I realize the whole schmoozy, contact-forming ritual is often vital to a business' success. And as a leader of a business, the smart thing to do is to cultivate relationships which would potentially have a positive impact on your business. I am not so naïve as to not understand that. Still, essentially coercing your employees to support a candidate that MAY throw a little work your way IF he gets elected mayor does not seem right to me. Unethical maybe - unprofessional at best.
To each his own. If Bob wants to support candidate A for mayor, that is absolutely his prerogative and I would not begrudge him that. If Bob feels it is in his best interest, and that of his business, to make a large donation to candidate A's campaign, again, he has that choice. And if Bob wants to show his support by attending a fund raising event for candidate A, by all means, go go go! But I cannot endorse political bullying or manipulation. And it's not even about where a person stands in her or his political/personal beliefs. Nor is it about curtailing discussions or debates with friends and colleagues about sensitive topics.
I'm not suggesting that politics, or any controversial subject, be tiptoed around - political correctness be damned. Freedom of expression is good in a workplace, especially in a work environment that promotes creativity and divergent ideas. But an employer (and a founding firm partner) bringing politics into the workplace and blatantly attempting to influence people whom he employs, is a whole other can of worms that I find questionable and distressing. Would Bob directly or indirectly discriminate against an employee who did not agree with his political views or methods? I don't know. It's sticky. But, regardless of Bob's real or perceived intentions, it was poor judgement from a person who is in a leadership position.