Religion and Politics at Work

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December 13, 2010

Today I’m thinking about relationships.

Personal relationships and work relationships are the “stuff” that fills our day.  They are the sources of our greatest joys and of our greatest sorrow.  They are the times with people who can bring our world crashing down with just one look and the times where a hug or a kiss can be better than any other feeling known to man.  I started thinking about this after listening to last Thursday’s HR Happy Hour radio show.  The episode was about politics and religion in the workplace.  As I listened, it struck me that we try so hard to compartmentalize our lives based on what is appropriate to say and when that we sometimes lose sight of who we are.  We go to work each day for 8, 10, 14 hours a day yet have to comply with societal and cultural norms that shove much of who we are in a little box until we leave work.

You know one reason HR exists?  I think it’s because people just can’t keep all these parts of themselves tucked away all day, every day.  Sometimes their views on religion or politics come out at work.  Sometimes, they tease or joke like they would with a friend, but they do it at work.  Then….POW!  They’ve offended a co-worker.  Now it’s off to HR to tell them to keep their personality in check, keep it under control, don’t say or do “inappropriate” things at work, etc.

I am a realist and I know that as employees, we should not do or say things to violate other employees’ rights.  We should also try not to offend each other because the point of us being at work is to work, not create drama.  But, there needs to be a balance of being able to be who you really are too.  I’ve worked at organizations where you can’t be yourself.  It’s awful.  So, I left.  Now I work at an organization that actually has a heart.  It may be partly because we’re in the business of caring for sick children, but I don’t think that’s the only reason.  We care about each other as human beings.  I feel it every day when I walk through the door at work.  It’s amazing.

I’m not going to ever be the person who preaches to you here or to people at work.  But I will be the person who says a prayer if you’re sick, hurt, or going through something terrible or difficult.  I may not tell you I say them, but I do.  I’m strong in my own religious beliefs because I’ve had many miracles in my life (in 2003 and 2008), but I love learning about other religions and from people who don’t believe.  I won’t be that person at work who argues my political views, but if you want to talk politics with me, I’m open to it.  Why?  Because talking with you about these things helps me grow as a person.

So, religion and politics at work?  It’s a hard question.  Why don’t you just listen to guest host Jason Seiden over at the HR Happy Hour to find out what others had to say about it.  And, be sure to weigh in here in the comments.

10 Comments

  • I appreciate you making this topic real Trish. I tell all of our new employees to forget the old adage of “leaving your personal life at the door” when they come to work. It’s not possible. We all need to be professional, but that doesn’t mean we can shut off the rest of our lives. HR can be a valuable resource to those who are in need, and to those who need feedback to stay on track. We can also “be there” to go deeper when the moment is right.

    • @Jay- I really like how you phrase that last line… “HR can be there to go deeper when the moment is right.” That is so very true. Thanks for commenting.

  • Bringing more of ourselves to all aspects of our lives seems the best practice to me – leaves us being more real and less calculated?
    Thanks for the post!

  • I wrote an article about religion and politics at work quite awhile back.

    I have one co worker who will just let it fly, no matter who’s around. Thankfully, I come off as politically neutral and will deflect as much as possible. I try to talk much louder and try to make my customer not hear the polarising opinion. While I am literally not offended by any political opinion, I get squirmy when I hear a polarising opinion at work for a customer or co worker. I know someone will be offended and possibly not return to the business. It’s just not the place, and I rank it with sexual harassment. It just shouldn’t go on. If you need to get your political freak on, call in to the late-night radio shows and blather on!!! But work isn’t the place for it.

    I only talk politics if the following scenario is apparent: there is nobody else around, and the person I am talking them with is rational and NOT a freakin’ nut job!!! If it were up to me, talk of the three no-nos (sex, religion, and politics) would be grounds for dismissal. While that policy would seem to infringe upon free speech, I don’t want the operation of business to be infringed upon. If I ever own a business, that will be policy.

  • Trish,

    Thanks so much for this post. You communicate this complex issue very clearly.

    We don’t compartmentalize very well. In fact, I don’t want to compartmentalize at all. Whichever part of me I have to turn off makes me feel like a fake. But as a member of a free society, I still must behave so that I don’t offend others.

    Thanks again for the analogy that helps to communicate this issue better. I appreciate it.

    • @Mike- Thank you for the compliment. I really enjoyed hearing you on the show and I agree with you that I like to bring all of myself to work. After all, even if I don’t talk about religion, politics, or other topics, they still shape my thinking and how I respond to work situations. I doubt that we’ll ever all be in agreement on how each workplace should handle these topics. My hope is that each individual can find a work environment that meshes with the level of sharing they are comfortable with. Thanks again for commenting!

  • Hi Trish,

    I am happy for people to hold different political and religious views. They are also free to debate them until they get personal, then we all have to stop and walk away until we can come back again. Disrepect has no place regardless of our opinion and if you have to get personal, well then you have lost the debate.

    Insisting that I take on your opinion also has no place and I refuse to tolerate that also – likewise you don’t have to live mine.

  • How appropriate I stumble upon your blog today. Yesterday I was just talking to 2 of my staff and was asking them how come they didn’t push their justifications for the HR budget and they said that it’s because it wasn’t asked of them. I’m new in the HR field only 1 year and 8 months old and I’m the youngest MANCOM member in our company. Most of them are 10 years older than me. What I’m trying to espouse is engagement. And if we cannot bring our holistic selves into the workplace I don’t think engagement is possible.

    I found out from my staff that they view work now simply as a channel or a path to another better opportunity. I used to think the same. But I realized that if I look at my work a little bit more creatively, I can be doing what I want now by integrating it in my life at work.

    I’ve always been the artsy, writer, thespian, musically inclined kid in school but I was never able to completely practice that because my parents opted for me to have a “career”. Now I find myself integrating a creative bent in whatever I do or try to initiate in my job. One of my staff wants to be a fashion designer. I told her the next time she designs trainings, make sure she looks at it as a theatre production and imagine the costumes and the wardrobe (roles), the plot (training flow) etc.

    I talked to them about work life balance and I realized that work-life balance isn’t about shutting the door to your life at work after you leave the office or vice versa. If you shut the door to your life at work when you leave the office, you’ll just end up feeling so stressed when you wake up and say “ugh it’s work time again”. I told them that they have to find it in theirselves to see their work life differently. It’s not a chore. It’s a place where they can make a difference. So instead of grumbling about the stress, be the change they want to see (as Ghandi would say) and let’s help the environment be a better place to work in.

  • As was said on the show: if you have energy enough to take offense, you have energy enough to deal with the issue in a positive and constructive way.

Comments are closed.

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About Trish

A former HR executive and HCM product leader with over 20 years of experience.

HR HAPPY HOUR LIVE! TALENT ACQUISITION & ONBOARDING

THE FUTURE OF WORK

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