A new employee just began working with a reader we're calling Mary Beth. So far, writes Mary Beth, they've hit it off quite well. Mary Beth has been asked to serve as a mentor for her new colleague and she's gladly obliged.
While the co-workers have found that they live in the same city, have many shared interests and enjoy one another's company, Mary Beth recently learned that her colleague's spouse works for their city's mayor.
"She only brought it up once or twice," Mary Beth writes, "but I'm concerned that our relationship might suffer if she tries to engage my help to get the guy re-elected."
Mary Beth didn't vote for the mayor, she writes. She also longs for a candidate who can beat the mayor, who seems entrenched in his position.
Mayoral contests in Mary Beth's city are not conducted along political party lines. She has no idea if her colleague belongs to a particular party nor if she holds political views that go against hers. She's simply concerned that when the time comes for the mayor's next campaign, tension might arise between her and her colleague if she invites Mary Beth to any campaign functions.
"Should I say something now?" Mary Beth asks. "Or make my feelings about our current mayor known?" Doing so, she figures, might stave off any future awkward invites.
Many workplaces have policies forbidding employees to bring political activities into the workplace. But it's unclear to Mary Beth whether an invitation from her colleague to a political event would violate such a policy, especially because she and her colleague have discussed getting together outside of work.
If Mary Beth is truly concerned, perhaps the first thing she might do is to look up her company's policy on political activity in the workplace. Given that she is a mentor to her new colleague, having such information available might prove useful and instructive should her colleague decide to engage in something that violates company policy.
But aside from mentioning where her spouse works, her colleague, according to Mary Beth, has never engaged in political talk nor has she encouraged Mary Beth nor anyone to attend functions for the mayor. So far, her colleague has been professional and has done nothing to put Mary Beth or any other co-worker into an awkward position when it comes to mayoral politics.
If Mary Beth brings up the issue, she runs the risk of appearing judgmental or that she is looking for a confrontation where none exists. No good is likely to come from blurting out: "You know I can't stand your spouse's boss, so don't even think of inviting me," It's also a bit presumptuous for Mary Beth to assume she'd be invited to anything before the invitation is extended.
The right thing is for Mary Beth to continue to mentor her colleague as best she can. If there are company policies about which the colleague should know, then Mary Beth can point these out to her. Good mentors help their mentees get settled. They don't go looking for problems before they exist.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School.
Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin
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