Nonprofit leadership means keeping politics out of the officeNonprofit experts Gary G. Godsey, executive director of the Association of Texas Professional Educators, and Kathryn Engelhardt-Cronk, MissionBox co-founder and CEO, have teamed up to create MissionBox DoubleTake — a column that offers opinions about the peskier aspects of working in the nonprofit sector. The opinions offered here are based on the authors' personal nonprofit experience and may not reflect the opinions of MissionBox, Inc. These opinions should not be considered legal advice or used as a substitute for professional legal consultation. MissionBox readers are invited to submit alternative responses, which may be published here as well.
I work in a no-kill animal shelter, so I'm used to hearing dogs barking all day long. Since the last U.S. presidential election, I'm now listening to my colleagues barking all day long — at each other! The language and heat of these conversations seems to escalate with each passing day.
I have my own political opinions, but I try to keep them to myself. However, most of the staff seems to think it's a free-for-all, with a "take no prisoners" attitude for anyone who disagrees. Let me just tell you, it's getting mean. Our executive director is the worst offender. She just can't get over Trump's win. I've heard her really come down on a few folks for being Trump supporters.
I enjoy my job because it brings me into daily contact with the innocent and loving ways of dogs and cats — but if the political talk doesn't die down soon, I'll need to look for another job.
Gary says ...
If your boss condones the behavior and is actively participating in its perpetuation, then you have only one way to deal with it: tell her how you feel. Perhaps she's unaware of the depth and magnitude of the problem. Blowhards often have no self-awareness. Having a staff member come forward might be the thing that quells the unwanted political rhetoric. Although the office will always be a place for that type of banter, allowing it to go on — or making the situation worse — is something your boss needs to get her hands around.
If that doesn't work, you may have to find another job. While unwanted by some, political talk isn't forbidden in most workplaces.
Kathryn says ...
This is a job for your boss. It's inappropriate and harmful to productivity and morale to allow verbal fistfights about politics to enter your shelter doors.
The recent election has caused rifts for many people, both at home and at work. Someone needs to remind your boss that politics have no place in caring for puppies and kitties. If you have a decent relationship with your boss and she's otherwise a good leader, I'd talk to her about your concerns.
If you're afraid of her cold shoulder or a freak out, then you have three choices:
- Escalate the matter to the board through a verbal or written complaint. If you do this, know that you'll make an enemy of your boss, who will (correctly) say that you should have spoken to her first.
- Wait it out (and maybe buy some nice headphones). Surely all this bitterness can't go on for the next four years! Wait, what am I saying? Maybe it can.
- As a last resort, quit your job. If you go this route, tell your boss why you're leaving in your letter of resignation. You might say that you're committed to the cause of animal welfare, but you feel forced to leave because her leadership has been overtaken by her political resentments.
In my office, we have a firm policy: no politics or religion. A safe workplace for all means no one should be harassed for their personal beliefs, particularly by the boss!
Here's one more thought: send your boss this opinion post or place a printed copy on her desk. She just might get the message.