Should advisors mix business with politics?
By Paul Wilson
Remember the old adage, "Don't talk politics and religion"? Is it just me or does this piece of advice seem to have lost its hold on many Americans? It's seems you can't go anywhere these days without running into someone who's firmly convinced that you're dying to hear their every thought on matters previously considered private. This seems to be especially true as we make our way through a divisive election season filled with hyperbolic campaign advertisements and volatile emotions. While there are a variety of pitfalls awaiting anyone who insists on indiscriminately trumpeting their opinions, things become even trickier when you add business into the mix.
A recent NPR piece, "Is Putting Politics On Display Bad For Business?" examined the potential consequences of using one's business as a platform to espouse political views.
"Every election season, political signs sprout like dandelions from lawns across America. They also pop up at more than a few businesses. For some, expressing political preferences is a calculated move to attract customers. But it can just as easily turn clients away," writes Scott Neuman.
Later in the piece, Costas Panagopoulos, a political science professor at New York's Fordham University, warns, "[Businesses that display political affiliations] need to weigh the risks against the potential benefits of making such a visible expression of their preferences."
The rise of social media has made sharing one's political views as easy as pressing a button. Opinions formerly reserved for conversations with close friends and families are now blasted out to everyone, whether they're interested or not. A spur-of-the-moment decision to post a political rant can be spurred by a vitriolic article or the latest episode of The Daily Show. The results often include Internet flame wars, the loss of Facebook friends (or even worse, real ones) and hurt feelings all around. Angering an old college roommate is bad enough, but what about alienating half of your clients?
The kicker is, you're not likely to change anyone's point of view anyway. The Pew Internet & American Life Project survey recently found that just 16 percent of social media users have changed their mind about a political issue after discussing it or reading posts about it on a social networking site. And just one-quarter became more involved in a political issue after discussing it or reading about it on a social networking site.
Discussing politics in the workplace also comes with its own set of landmines, according to NBC News. "The country has gotten so polarized and opinions are so passionate that discussions can quickly turn negative," according to John Challenger, CEO of global outplacement consultant Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.
What begins as friendly banter between two co-workers can quickly spiral into a heated argument that may harm your chances for a promotion, lead to accusations of employee harassment and even make it more difficult to find a new job, according to the piece.
Interestingly, the NPR piece cites Cindy Kam, a political science professor at Vanderbilt University who believes that while showing support for a particular candidate is risky for most business owners, it can occasionally pay off, depending on the type of business. For example, an organic coffee shop would probably be safer taking a position than a mom-and-pop grocery store, Kam says.
This made me wonder, what about advisors? You spend your days with clients discussing intimate financial details, many of which revolve around politically-charged issues such as taxation, health insurance and regulation. And I've been around long enough to know that many of you have very strong opinions that you're more than willing to share here on ProducersWEB. Does this carry over into conversations with your clients?
How often do politics come up in the course of your average workday? Do you consider the chance to rip into the PPACA or tear apart Romney's Medicare voucher idea a prime opportunity to bond with like-minded clients, or are such conversations a recipe for disaster? Because whether it's a good idea or not, something tells me you (and the rest of America) are going to have plenty of opportunities to sound off over the next few months.