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Cover image for Should/can employees ignore the social views of their coworkers and bosses?
Sumeet Jain (he/him)
Sumeet Jain (he/him)

Posted on • Updated on • Originally published at

Should/can employees ignore the social views of their coworkers and bosses?

Especially for those views that one sees as dangerous to their existence, is it reasonable to tell an employee to ignore their coworkers'/bosses' social ideologies?

I know thinking in the abstract can be difficult, so here are some examples among many to start the conversation:

  • A Muslim employee sees their Facebook 'Friend' vehemently defend a travel ban that is preventing their family from joining them in the US.
  • A Mexican employee sees a coworker post meme after meme about how people of Mexican heritage are lazy.
  • A woman (or anyone, for that matter) sees their boss fighting for a universal ban on the right to have an abortion for any reason.

I'm not suggesting that one investigate to discover these beliefs. But in this modern era of personal/professional mixing, coworkers 'Friend' each other on Facebook and follow each other on Twitter. They often hang out after work (and failing to do so, if we're being honest, will have some impact on one's advancement).

So if someone is broadcasting social views that an employee feels personally threatened by, what should the employee do?

Top comments (6)

ggggbbybby profile image
Rebecca G • Edited

I struggle with this daily. I would never hang out with some of my coworkers if we didn't work together - their politics make me feel alienated and less-than, and they can be really insensitive about some topics. For example, at a work dinner, they talked about how stupid it was that UC Berkeley took down some recorded lectures because someone asked them to add subtitles to comply with the ADA.

I don't feel like I can confront them about it, because I'm worried that anything I say will be seen as an overreaction, or irrational, and I don't want to make it a big thing. But it's really hard to go to work and know that the people you work with think that you're stupid for supporting X or Y. I try keep my relationships with those people strictly professional, and to spend more time with the coworkers I agree with more, but it's still hard. I don't go to most after-hours events with my team anymore, and I feel like I'm missing out. :(

ben profile image
Ben Halpern

This is one of the most uncomfortable things about the current political/social media life right now. Where there is strong division and these communication technologies we at a society are not great at using.

I don't think anyone is sure how to deal with this, but here's what I'd suggest: Seek allies who are close to the situation themselves. They might also not know how to deal with it, but if you open up a dialogue with others who are coming at it from the same perspective, you've made progress.

I'm privileged enough that I rarely have to feel personally threatened, but for what it's worth, I actively make use of "mute" functionality on social media when I need to disengage from people's beliefs without creating conflict.

andrewlucker profile image
Andrew Lucker • Edited

It's not just coworkers. Thanks to Citizens United you can now find morally reprehensible policies being directly funded by the company you work for. Even if you donate a fraction of your salary to fight those policies, chances are the company will beat you in donations, so the only logical step is to find a new employer with an ideology similar to yours.

There is no such thing as politically neutral employment anymore.

sumeetjain profile image
Sumeet Jain (he/him)

Part of my struggle with this is reconciling:

  • conventional wisdom about the workplace ("Leave politics and religion at home.") with
  • social media ("Please, broadcast all your thoughts and feelings. P.S. There's a small, nearly hidden button to toggle whether this is shared with only friends and family.") and
  • hiring practices in tech (Beer test. Culture fit. Googling people before interviewing them.) and
  • companies wanting to have a social conscience ("Our company values include...")

Ignoring social views at work seems much, much harder for people from certain groups/communities. So does that suggestion on its own create inequality in the workplace? Because it pushes a greater emotional burden on some employees than others?

Can a company that pushes this suggestion rightly claim that it cares about inclusivity? Workplace wisdom from the 1970s just doesn't seem to apply anymore.

kspeakman profile image
Kasey Speakman

May be pertinent for you.

Linda Rising - Meeting Resistance and Moving On

The opening makes you think it is political, but ultimately not the main point.

kspeakman profile image
Kasey Speakman • Edited

Most people believe what they believe (negative) for a reason -- usually ignorance or negative influences, but maybe hurt. Especially for ignorance, it is easy to pick on other groups when your echo chamber doesn't contain people from those groups. But when someone from that other group materializes to you, becomes a living person who you have to deal with, that's when the real decision is made. Now realizing I boiled a whole person down to one aspect of their life, am I going to become a toxic person and cling to dehumanizing you into a single aspect? Or am I going to grow past it?

To your question. If it were me, I would ignore them and not get involved in their personal life. Keep it professional. If their bias is against you and you are stuck interacting with them in person, the most impactful thing you can do is expose your humanness. They see you love your kids just as much as they love their kids. Or you like that same show that they like. Or whatever. Seeing you as human strikes at the core of such beliefs. I think most people are not a bad sort and can grow past it. But a rare few will intensify the toxicity because growing is too hard for them (maybe brain chemistry or belief is co-mingled with identity so changing it is like dying). It is not worth being around a persistently toxic person. Transfer or change jobs if necessary.

I also think it is a trap to believe yourself better than such a person mentioned in your post. You might be in some ways, but we each have our own biases and preconceived notions. It's one of the ways our brain deals with vastly different cultures which we don't understand. We lack enough information, so we substitute with quick generalizations (often from other people in our social sphere). But when we have better information, our simplistic model can be replaced with the richer one. It can be a tough process, especially so for some.