When CEOs decide to bring their political views into the workplace, they could be wading into dangerous territory.
For one, as noted by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, they risk fueling division by alienating employees with opposing views. Then there’s a potential loss of customers to worry about should their opinions go public, as Under Armor’s Kevin Plank and Uber’s Travis Kalanick can attest.
On the flipside, CEOs could attract talent or customers that share their values, and, as at least one study has shown, encourage staff to vote for their favored political candidate. But it’s rare for companies, particularly large ones, to comprise entire workforces that neatly fit into specific political demographics.
Indeed, erring on the side of caution appears to win the day, according to a new survey of 742 American executives conducted by recruitment firm Korn Ferry. It found the majority of respondents (56%) believed they should leave their politics at the door. Just 25% said their business had taken a view on a political issue, while 17% felt their company had lost business as a result.
“While politics in many parts of the globe is an incredibly divisive issue, corporations would do well to encourage constructive dialogue across this divide,” said Korn Ferry’s Andrés Tapia. “Political diversity is a new frontier in the work of inclusion.”
Even encouraging constructive dialogue could be a mistake. As recently reported by Chief Executive, research indicates an alarming number of workers feel they’ve become less productive since Donald Trump was elected, simply because talking about his policies is distracting them from doing their jobs.
Discussions can evolve into full-blown arguments: 23% of the executives surveyed by Korn Ferry, for example, said the current political environment had interfered with their individual job performance.
There are certain instances where companies feel they must stand up for certain core values, particularly if not choosing a side implies support for an opposing view. Starbucks, for example, has forged a reputation as a socially-responsible retailer under the guidance of Howard Schultz, while big tech companies didn’t shy away from criticizing Donald Trump’s attempted Muslim immigration bans.
Interestingly, while a clear majority of executives hadn’t taken a political stand, around two-thirds thought it was acceptable for their company to do so. “Many of these companies have emerged with enhanced reputations and, in various cases, have been rewarded in the marketplace,” Tapia said.
Still, given the financial risks involved, CEOs may want to pick their fights sparingly.