The midterms show that politics has entered France as well as American companies, and this is causing serious problems
Joe Biden at a meeting in the United States.
©ANGELA WEISS / AFP
Between the war in Ukraine, the environmental crisis and social problems, the news has pushed politics into business, creating sacred and new challenges for business leaders. French bosses are not the most comfortable.
It is after the Covid crisis that disrupts the organization of work and imposes strict sanitary conditions, but more so after the war in Ukraine, the impact of sanctions, the explosion of inflation, political issues entered the companies en masse. In the office and workshop, not just in the coffee machine.
In the United States, social issues and the relationship between men and women have never been left out of corporate life. For a very long time, these questions have been involved in business life and burdened the internal organization. These issues are usually the responsibility of human relations departments.
After the arrival of Donald Trump, the questions became tougher and even expanded to political and partisan questions. The arrival of the Democrats with Joe Biden has not calmed things down, and the campaign for the Midtems has just said that about 25% of workers at companies are victims of extreme prejudice because of their political affiliation. . These victims will mostly be permanent members of the conservative camp. In short, “Trumpists” say that they are treated quite badly in companies. The survey was conducted by SHRM – the Society for Human Resource Management (the equivalent of the Association of Human Resource Directors) – of 500 American employees last August.
This survey shows that a quarter of the workers surveyed have been disciplined in their work and career. Everything was played out in their social or professional relationships. Their positions and speech in public spheres at work and in particular about everything: the management of Covid, the vaccination commitment, abortion, but apart from anything about the innuendo or severity of racism, and more broadly, their political positions. The most radicalized Republicans are clearly the most targeted.
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As the date of the midterm exam approached, the discussions became more and more intense.
When hiring, leaders are reluctant to hire a manager who has strong positions on one side or the other. Too conservative candidates are distrusted by employers, as are too liberal candidates.
This situation worries employers today, as positions are increasingly polarized.
This problem is not specific to America. It’s also very French, and it’s only gotten worse in the last decade. Since the financial crisis, with Covid and today with the war in Ukraine, the climate crisis, inflation, etc. … Social issues have permeated the workplace.
Fight against global warming and greenhouse gas emissions taken into account by the management of large companies. Under pressure from employees, shareholders and, above all, customers, based on ethics or self-interest, business owners have integrated environmental constraints or more general CSR goals into their strategies. It wasn’t that simple, especially since the government, for political reasons, made the emission reduction targets so restrictive that they were dangerous to the company’s balance sheet.. A decision to switch all car production from thermal to electric by 2035 cannot be achieved without condemning part of the sector. So we’ll have to go back and give ourselves more flexible deadlines. However, such procrastination does not improve investors’ vision. Climate positions are often radical, but can be resolved through technical compromises. Anyone can adapt to stubborn facts.
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Some very public issues are much more radical and even more ideological. The freedom to choose and change one’s gender, such as the issue of euthanasia at the end of life, not to mention any serious political debate.
The war in Ukraine has forced companies to think about and perhaps choose their partners, customers and suppliers.
Can a Western company take the risk of partnering with countries that do not share the same values, should it take the risk of working with suppliers or customers who do not fulfill their international obligations?
Working with Russia or China, which do not respect the same labor laws, the same safety or hygiene standards, already creates technical or security problems. Of course, such relations also create moral problems. But these countries are facing the risk of losing their independence, investments, and assets, because they cannot respect the norms of international law if it suits them.
It is the responsibility of the company, management, employees and shareholders to question themselves and take a stand.
Medef and many employers’ organizations are well aware that companies need to take a stand. The difficulty is knowing at what cost. At the cost of losing juicy customers, comfortable profitability and even jobs.
Today, companies face very delicate and very important problems. Because political authorities can be responsible for certain decisions: blocking or blacklisting countries. Labor law protects the freedom of expression of all workers and limits the exercise of this labor right quite clearly by not accepting its use for proselytizing purposes, which is normal. There is no question of a campaign or a militia. However, this is all up for debate and there is case law to support decision-making.
But the question of whether a company can take the risk of operating in China, Russia or Cuba is a more serious question.. Because such a decision affects its results and future, and it concerns all partners whose behavior optimizes their personal interests for each of them. A customer looking for quality and the most attractive price. An employee trying to keep his job and a shareholder waiting for a return on investment.
Geopolitics has taught us over the past few months that none of these optimization conditions can be guaranteed, apart from morality or ethics.
So companies can and should have a say in the political debate, and are beginning to do so, but they must nevertheless stay grounded and weigh their risks. All political issues are managed. Except those who take them to lands where democratic values and international law are not respected.And this is new.