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Restoring Civility in the Workplace

3 ¾ min

It’s May, and the chilly dawn here in Virginia brings singing birds, velvet-soft breezes, and the rich perfume of freshly mown grass and damp earth. I take pleasure and joy in the time I spend on my front porch, sometimes singing a few lines from Louis Armstrong’s “It’s a Wonderful World.”

After a few minutes, I heave myself up from my chair, say aloud, “Well, let’s see what’s happening in the world,” and go to my laptop. There I look at the headlines, opening a few, and reading only one or two of these articles to the end.

Most of these pieces address the same issues every day—the pandemic, riots, cancel culture, transgenderism, or systemic racism—and rarely do any of the writers have much of anything new to say on these topics. A man looking for happiness in these headlines might as well be looking for water in the Sahara.

But there are, thank heavens, exceptions, a fact I realized recently while reading Andrea burg’s article “A software company comes up with a brilliant corporate speech policy.”

Widburg reports that Basecamp, a software company specializing in workplace productivity programs, issued a statement forbidding discussions of politics at work. Along with Basecamp partner and founder David Hansson, CEO and founder Jason Fried sent a detailed memorandum to all employees instructing them that henceforth there will be “no more societal and political discussions on our company Basecamp account.” The memo ends by noting:

We are not a social impact company. Our impact is contained to what we do and how we do it…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.

Because Basecamp is a private company, the executives have the right to set such policies. Yet despite the measured tone of this directive, about a third of the company’s employees are resigning as a result of this change.

Their resignations confuse me. Why wouldn’t everyone be happy to avoid such discussions and focus on the work at hand? Scott Adams, creator of the “Dilbert” comic strip and now a popular podcaster, took a lighter approach, writing, “In one of the greatest management moves of all time, Basecamp’s CEO persuaded all of his most grindingly annoying employees to resign at once.”

Now a question: What if all corporations and businesses took this same stance? What if their CEOs and managers told employees to limit their political conversations to their own time?

Coca-Cola recently found itself facing a backlash after instituting workshops and policies on systemic racism, a plan it hit pause on after a sizable uproar. What if instead of enmeshing itself in cultural and political issues, Coke simply sold its beverages, paid attention to the bottom line, gave its investors healthy dividends, and satisfied its customers?

What if other manufacturers followed the example of Basecamp? “Our goal is simply to bring excellent products to our customers and consumers in a timely and efficient manner,” companies might say to their workers. “We are a business, not an engine of social change, and as a result we may do more good for the world by providing excellent products and services than any number of advocacy groups.”

Such an approach might not end the rancorous divisiveness in our country—the media and our universities are other major contributors to the ugly debates and name-calling of our time, and they are a tougher nut to crack—but it would be a start.

Maybe if, instead of becoming social justice warriors, we focused on our work, built up our families, enjoyed our friends, and quit squabbling about what are often extraneous issues, we might even find some front-porch, springtime happiness and peace again.

We might even hum a few bars of “It’s A Wonderful World.”

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Image Credit: 

Pixabay

Jeff Minick

Jeff Minick

Jeff Minick lives in Front Royal, Virginia, and may be found online at jeffminick.com. He is the author of two novels, Amanda Bell and Dust on Their Wings, and two works of non-fiction, Learning as I Go and Movies Make the Man.

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M. Landry
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Indeed. I’ve long believed that a company could develop competitive advantage if they knocked themselves out providing superior customer service. Now I believe competitive advantage can be gained by ditching the politics and just focusing on the mission of the organization and providing the goods/services better than anybody else.
 
 

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sshive73
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YES! What else can I say? It seems to me that anyone who doesn't like this piece either does not work in a workplace that consists of diverse backgrounds and political viewpoints. Or, on the other hand, they could be part of the 1/3 of Basecamp that left.
 
 

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RubySwoon
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Bravo to Basecamp CEO! His statement is a reflection of *what we've known works in the workforce for DECADES*, which is that discussions about politics and religion have no place in virtually ALL public and private places of employment. They are divisive topics that hinder production and therefore ultimately profit and customer satisfaction. Accepting woke staff into our workplace was to benefit only substandard employees who couldn't get a leg up any other way. That is, employees are typically expected to rise UP to given business standards, but those who can't hack it instead weaponize wokeness to drag standards and high achievers back down to their level. WEAK!!
 
 

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M.R.Sellnow
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Great article; reminds me of an excerpt from the book, "The Daily Drucker," which gives Alfred Sloan's perspective on social responsibility. Excerpt as follows: "Public" responsibility was to Alfred Sloan worse than unprofessional; it was irresponsible, a usurpation of power. "We have a responsibility toward higher education," a chief executive of a major American corporation once said at a meeting both Sloan and I attended. "Do we in business have any authority over higher education?" Sloan asked. "Should we have any?" "Of course not," was the answer. "Then let's not talk about 'responsibility,'" said Sloan with asperity. "You are a senior executive in a big company and you know the first rule: authority and responsibility must be congruent and commensurate to each other. If you don't want authority and shouldn't have it, don't talk about responsibility. And if you don't want responsibility and shouldn't have it, don't talk about authority." Sloan based this on management principles. But of course it is the first lesson of political theory and political history. Authority without responsibility is illegitimate; but so is responsibility without authority. Both lead to tyranny. Sloan wanted a great deal of authority for his professional manager, and was ready to take high responsibility. But for that reason he insisted on limiting authority to the areas of professional competence, and refused to assert or admit responsibility in areas outside them. Sadly, many major corporations have ignored this idea, choosing instead to focus on becoming the best social justice advocate they can be without having any actual authority. This is nothing other than corporate virtue signaling which adds little benefit to the bottom line. Rather than focus on producing the best product in their industry, many man hours are spent on pushing the social justice agenda and ensuring diversity targets are met. True respect for others is lost in the din of such goals.
 
 

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sansme57
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Amen!
 
 

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