Would you work for a company that stands for different and opposing political beliefs than yours?
It’s a tricky question to answer, especially in such a politically-charged time. It is possible to keep politics out of the workplace, but what about when it becomes a factor you just can’t ignore or it seeps into your daily professional life?
It often is irreconcilable and ends badly, like a journalist for a news organization in India found out recently. Last month, Shyam Meera Singh, a former journalist for Aaj Tak, took to social media to announce that he had been fired by the company for posting a tweet critical of the country’s prime minister. While this caused a stir online, it wasn’t the first time someone has been fired or has quit over politics. Earlier this year, a young woman was fired from music streaming platform Gaana.com, over her old tweets.
As politics inevitably finds its way into every conversation, defining relationships and people, the question arises: will political ideology now influence who we work with just as it is influencing who we choose to socialize with?
For some, the personal nature of politics makes ideology the first boundary line they draw. “If the work is non-political, it makes the decision to ‘keep your head down and just do it’ a little easier. But when you are putting out work that is against what you stand for ethically and politically, you feel attacked and unsafe,” Richa*, a Delhi-based journalist, told Re:Set. She quit her previous workplace over differences in political ideology with her former boss.
‘It’s important that the employee understands that there will be people with differing perspectives.’
But even making that choice between sticking to your beliefs and earning a living is a privilege not many can afford.
Rachel*, a professional in Mumbai’s film industry, found herself grappling with that decision recently when she was working on a movie that bordered on propaganda and was helmed by someone who leaned right on the political spectrum.
“I come from a family that has its roots across the border and I even have friends from Pakistan,” she told Re:Set. “My political and social beliefs are everything this film stood against. But I was given this opportunity right after the first wave of the pandemic, when jobs were very scarce and people had to make money to survive.”
Rachel continued working on the project till she read the script and that’s when she realized it was something she couldn’t make her peace with. “It made me feel like an irresponsible citizen because I also know the kind of effect such films can have on the public,” she said, adding that she eventually quit the project. She also acknowledged that it was a choice a lot of people can’t make as it comes down to earning a living at the end of the day.
For others, like Savita*, the choice is made for them. The Delhi-based media professional was let go earlier this year, when it was discovered that her political views didn’t align with the company’s. “I was told, over the phone, that it was in my best interests to stop working for the company. It was very clear that their political views were immovable and they weren’t open to any kind of discussion,” she told Re:Set. Now, ideology is the one of the main deal breakers when Savita looks at companies to work with. “I now need the assurance that the company I work for is progressive. I research its history and its investors before I even apply,” she said.
‘When you are putting out work that is against what you stand for ethically and politically, you feel attacked.’
But is there a way to compartmentalize?
Employers taking a clear stand is the first and most effective step, Mohammed Hissham, an HR manager from Bengaluru, said. He underlines the need for the leadership and HR to keep topics of polarization out of the workplace as much as possible. “It’s important that the employee understands that there will be people with differing perspectives. As much as possible, the employee must focus on their ‘why’ — the reason they’re doing that job, which will help them refocus on what’s important,” he told Re:Set.
For those working in fields that involve talking about politics, like journalism, Hissham suggests keeping in mind the objective nature of the work. But in cases where objectivity is not possible, he suggests being open and upfront about what topics of discussion make you uncomfortable. “You have to start by being clear on your stance and remove emotion from the equation. It’s difficult to do, but it’s important to step back and look at things logically because that’s what helps you move forward,” he said, adding that in cases where the differences affect productivity and functioning, it’s best to move to a workplace that is more conducive.
*Names changed to protect the identity of the speakers.