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posted: 3/10/2020 1:00 AM

Vote for Him! No! Her

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Keeping peace in the workplace likely wasn't one of your reasons for becoming an entrepreneur. You probably didn't sign up to be an election arbitrator either.

Yet here we are with a presidential primary on our doorstep, a full-bore election bearing down on us and a question to be answered: Could the election cost you that prospect you've been working so long to land -- or a customer or two you already have?

Probably not, but maybe.

Depending on what your watch, phone or (if you still have one) desk calendar says, there's more than a little time left before the presidential election in November.

With that time, however, comes an almost inevitable feeling that election rhetoric will heat up -- probably, the pundits say, a lot, maybe even at work.

The issue then becomes workplace atmosphere: Will all those employee discussions on baseball, weather and whatever turn to discussions -- or debates -- on who should be president?

With the political atmosphere already heated up and months to go before we collectively choose a president, and more than a few other office holders, how do you (the owner/CEO/boss) keep peace in the workplace?

One way is to realize -- and share with employees -- that the impression your workplace gives to visitors -- prospects in for a conversation about the type of services you offer or a firsthand look at the products you sell -- matters.

The tone at the top may be key.

"If the boss is circumspect, the rest of the office will follow," says Bob Grogan, a Republican seeking reelection as DuPage County auditor.

Still, says Democrat Patrick Watson, "You can't ban people from talking." Watson is the Democratic State Central Committeeman in Illinois' sixth congressional district, a political patch of ground that, on the map, runs from Crystal Lake to Naperville. (If it helps, Democrat Sean Casten took the 6th district Congressional seat from Republican Peter Roskam in the last Congressional election.)

The district includes pieces of Cook, DuPage and Kane counties.

Now that you're situated, let's return to the primary issue: How do you keep the nearly inevitable employee political discussions peaceful? We're Americans, after all; we have opinions, and we talk.

Watson suggests keeping the break room radio or TV off -- or at least monitoring the programming. "I think a lot of the divisions are being drummed up by media commentators looking to boost ratings," he says.

It helps, Watson suggests, for the business leader to "politely remind employees that the company works best when employees work collaboratively, with the business' shared values as a guide."

In that sense, Grogan's suggestion that employees will respond to the tone set by the boss is worth remembering. If the individual at the biggest desk operates in Grogan's hoped for "calm bandwidth," chances are the company atmosphere will be calm -- and will present well to visitors.

Your business location may have open space that practically begs for candidate signs, but as tempting as that space may be it's probably best to go without obviously partisan signage. A large sign could be a negative for at least some staff -- and could turn off a prospect you've been trying to snare for some time.

Check with your attorney to make certain you don't cross any free speech lines -- and ask whether the lawyer has any suggested "Some of us are Republicans or Democrats, but we hopefully all will be voters in November ..." material you can share with employees.

Could the election cost you business -- even inadvertently? Maybe. Care in how you and your company approach the political activity will make a difference.

•For 15 years, Jim Kendall wrote a small business column for the Daily Herald. He's now joined the Daily Herald Business Ledger team. Follow Jim on LinkedIn and Twitter. Write Jim at Jim@kendallcom.com.

© 2020 Kendall Communications Inc.