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3 min Read
March 17, 2017

Balancing politics and productivity in the office

Everyone’s talking politics these days—all day, every day. At home, and definitely at work. Right now in the nonprofit sector, political conversations also permeate the work day—because the mission of a particular organization may be directly impacted by current events, or simply because the nonprofit field leaves more room for the passion of politics than the private sector, where it’s more common to leave your affiliations and opinions at home. Many nonprofits have also made public statements, or are working as an organization on specific mission-related actions (check out this statement on human dignity and LGBTQ rights from the Jewish Theological Seminary, for example). But how do politics integrate into the individual’s workday, especially now that we’re living and breathing breaking news? Let’s face it—what’s going on is critically important—but engaging with it constantly is distracting!

These days it feels unrealistic and unmotivating to encourage confining the “meet you at the rally” talk to after-work hours. Further complicating the issue is the fact that folks—no matter their political bent—may feel uncomfortable, or demotivated by the constant barrage of news. So how do you set boundaries in order to stay productive and engaged with work, not make anyone else uncomfortable, and still be involved politically?

Here are some ideas (most of which we’re implementing at Big Duck) to thoughtfully and strategically make space for politics at an individual level at your nonprofit.

Do you use an instant messaging platform like Slack or Hipchat? Make a political room.
Create a space for staff to motivate each other to participate in upcoming protest events, call legislators’ offices, and fight back. Removing these types of conversations from actual work dialogue also allows staff to focus when they’re trying to dive deep, so you have the best of both worlds—productivity and political action!

Schedule an optional weekly brown bag lunch or after-hours meet-up to vent, debate, and or incubate ideas for your nonprofit to get involved.
Planning a lunch or meet-up gives staff a collaborative outlet to bring their thoughts, ideas, and opinions to the table. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and alone with the daily inundation of political media, and connecting with peers can offer some mental relief and could produce a constructive plan for your organization to get involved.

Use an anonymous poll to gauge how comfortable the staff is.
Before introducing new initiatives or sharing too much, get a temperature read on staff opinions first. The idea of getting politically active now in areas your organization may not have been engaged in before could evoke some thoughts and fair concerns from staff members, especially those who don’t share the majority point of view. An anonymous poll lets staff present their perspectives without judgment and allows you to make informed decisions on how your nonprofit should communicate internally.

Have a best practices brainstorm with staff on how to stay motivated and mission-focused.
Maybe it’s turning off alerts on your NYT app so that you don’t break focus at work. Or maybe it’s scheduling time to call your senator on your lunch break… use your collective brains for ideas on how to turn off the noise and focus on work, while making room for the political engagement that’s important to you.

Make sure your board is on board.
If you’re a nonprofit with a hands-on board, or a nonprofit that’s politically oriented, your leadership team and board will likely have something to say about using official work channels for politics. Run your ideas by your executive director to make sure internal initiatives don’t ruffle any feathers.