Mixing Business and Politics: Recipe for Disaster?

Super Tuesday is an important stop on the 2012 campaign trail, and chances are your employees have strong opinions about who they want to see in the White House next year.

Small businesses have a lot at stake going into this election season, including the fate of health-care and tax reform. Although political discussions may not always be pleasant, they may be taking place within your small business.

But is mixing business with politics a smart idea in the workplace?

Roshini Rajkumar, executive communication coach and author of Communicate That!, said avoiding politics altogether in the office is nearly impossible. And policing it is difficult, as political freedom is the country's founding principle.

"It's natural water cooler conversation," Rajkumar said. "No matter what policy is in place, a place of business is just that. A company does have rights to limit certain activity."

If political discourse in the office will be detrimental to your organization's day-to-day functioning, Rajkumar said the first place to start is with your employee handbook. Have a portion of the manual address discussing politics in the office, and have a balanced procedure in place that is fair to workers.

"Ask yourself first, 'What is my intent for doing this?'" she said. "It's not unlike having a social media policy in place."

Employees should be reminded of your political policy going into the more heightened months of the 2012 election season, she said, through memos or even a staff meeting. Be aware of the language you are using in the memo, and think before you speak.

"From a communications standpoint, if you are fair and legal, you shouldn't go wrong," Rajkumar said. "You should be able to hold your head up high."

Some small businesses in particular may be more overtly political, or may be supporting a certain issue, for example, repealing the Affordable Care Act, which Rajkumar said is legal. If you truly feel you are attempting to educate your employees on a certain candidate or issue, she said to proceed with caution. Be sure you are not discriminating against any one person and explain why you are choosing to address this in the workplace.

"If the intent is good and to educate, share your opinion in a respectful manner," she said. "If your company is tracking a certain candidate or issue that will either help or hurt your business, this may help everyone to understand [why you are doing so]."

However, if the vibe in the office is that people are not on board with your political preaching, you may want to keep your stump speech to yourself, Rajkumar said.

"Really analyze your office before you open your mouth," she said.