At the time of the "breakfast break", whether you are rather panini in the park or sauerkraut in the canteen, two subjects will always seem delicate to you to evoke with your colleagues: religion and politics.
The professional sphere remains, for many of us, a place where our political convictions cannot be displayed without a certain measure. The extent to which this election period would turn into a real nightmare for the boss if the debate were to take place around the coffee machine, in the workshops and offices, leading to heated debates and even outbursts. So what can be done?
En these times of presidential elections, all French people are "Presidents-in-Power" and are keenly interested in the current campaign and in the candidates who line up on the starting grid, despite the unknown that is shaking up all the electoral equations that is the abstention rate. Thus until June, the electoral schedule (presidential and then legislative elections) will make France a democracy permanently "connected" to its political environment. And it is neither the recent Penelope Gate, nor the Macronite Aïgue that is taking hold of current events that will calm the ardor of our fellow citizens, and relegate political issues to the background.
But what do you do when you're a leader? Strictly forbid the subject? Dodge the question? Pray that our conditioned reflexes of seeking consensus and good manners will do the rest?
One thing is certain: if you ban debate, as good Frenchmen that they are, your staff will make it their duty to defy the ban. In any case, since 1946, the European Convention on Human Rights and the Labour Code have protected the right of employees to be able to talk about anything in the workplace, on the condition that they only share their personal opinions. The employee can therefore talk about politics within the company, but under no circumstances has the right to campaign for this or that candidate.
On the one hand, the Law applies. And on the other, the interest of the French in debates, in general, is visceral.
It is therefore the responsibility of the director, the manager of the company, to set the framework for the exchanges. And why not even launch certain debates of ideas? This is all the more true in French companies where organisation is one of the principles governing relations with others and life in the community.
The simplest way to start out serenely and without taking too many risks would be to tackle subjects related to the business activity, such as the analysis of policy proposals on the likely impact of the business. The most pragmatic example will be the automotive sector and the debate about the impact, real or not, of green policies.
Clearly, it is almost the duty of the executive to set an example through his or her practice. By tackling a subject himself, he or she guides and authorizes the debate, while inviting his or her colleagues to speak and express their point of view. And all this in a climate of exchange, trust and respect that he or she will have been able to establish.
Bringing ideas closer to the business context should make it possible, if necessary, to better manage the breadth of the debate. We will need to be courageous and not hesitate to dig deeper and compare competing programmes, rather than just mentioning one candidate or another. A real fundamental debate, that is what the head of a company must be able to propose.
It doesn't matter if Pierre is seduced by Benoît Hamon's universal income, if Paul swears by Jean-Luc Mélenchon or if Jacques affirms his intention to vote Marine Le Pen! The approach imposed is above all intellectual: to better understand the subjects together, to better anticipate the expected reforms and their impacts.
The manager is responsible for the framework of the exchanges and must bring each subject back to its state of reflection for the company, in this new space shared with its teams.
Prudence must be the mother of safety when the debate lingers on the candidates because, mathematically, a large part of the employees have already made their choice between François Fillon, Emmanuel Macron... We are certainly not in the United States, and it is not tomorrow the day before that the HRD will burst into the meeting room, with a T-shirt flanked by the portrait of Philippe Poutou.
Nevertheless, the campaign's key themes must be approached with caution as some of them approach the private sphere. And the French like to cultivate a certain discretion as regards their religious and sexual orientations. It will always be more judicious to conduct a comparative analysis to a unfolding of opinion because the role of leader is not partisan dogmatism but reflection and anticipation of the framework.
How to approach the political subject while mastering it?
While it is important to be careful, you and your team need to find the right format to start a conversation on this topic. The leader, depending on his or her personality, will find it more or less easy to make the discussion informal. Conversely, if he or she is not comfortable with the issue, there are alternatives such as organising a lunch or an afterwork on political issues related to the sector. This initiative should make it possible to bring people together around current events, while implicitly opening the way for exchange.
Talking politics in companies means discussing the experience of the city and not debating the major societal principles. So what should be done in the event of "slippage"? If the framework has been set, was it tacitly rather than announced, the manager must bring his "lost sheep back on the right track". By looking at the discussion in a cross-cutting way, by presenting the different programmes from the point of view of impact rather than mere opinion. He must forget his own opinion and put himself at the service of the exchange, intervening like a conductor. And if that were not enough, if the conversation were to become more heated, firm opposition to personal accusations and invective and a clear reminder of the rules would be a good thing.
Running a business is sometimes as simple as voting: in both cases, you have to use your instincts and common sense!