The “woke” workplace? Employees vote thumbs-down.

Most of us have probably heard the old adage that one should never talk about politics or religion at a party (unless its an election party or at the social hour following religious services, I suppose).

But what about at work?

In the “old days” – like when I started in business some 40 years ago – a similar unspoken rule applied; at the office, it just wasn’t “seemly” for people to wear their partisan or “cause” labels on their sleeves.

But that was before the bitterly disputed presidential campaign of 2000. Ever since those fateful 35 days following that election, it’s been downhill in the decorum department pretty much nonstop.

And after the election campaign of 2016, it’s gotten even worse.

Now we read stories about employees revolting against their own employers for seemingly “cavorting with the devil” (Wayfair selling furnishings to border detention facilities), employees losing their jobs – or at the least feeing compelled to leave their place of employment – due to the unpopularity of their political viewpoints (Google), and the like.

Add to this the social “virtue signaling” of some companies and brands who have become involved in social action initiatives (Gillette’s “shaming” of purported male personality traits in its “toxic masculinity” ad campaign).

With the 2020 presidential election campaign on our doorstep and the prospects of continued “high dudgeon” on the part of many people we can charitably refer to as being “highly sensitized” to the campaign, it’s worth wondering what everyday employees think of all this socio-political drama.

If the results of a new survey are any indication, the answer is … “not much.”

Recently, Washington, DC-based business management consulting firm Clutch surveyed ~500 full-time employees working at a cross-section of American businesses ranging from small employers to enterprises with more than 1,000 workers. The breakdown of the research sample included respondents whose philosophical leanings mirror the country’s as a whole (34% conservative, 25% liberal, 21% moderate, 13% apolitical).

What these respondents said should make everyone want to go back to the standards of yesteryear — you know, when socio-political advocacy in the office was considered the height of boorishness.

Among the salient findings from the survey:

  • Most respondents (~60%) don’t know if their political beliefs align with those of their coworkers. What’s more, they don’t care to know what their coworkers think politically.
  • Money, not socio-political alignment, motivates where people choose to work. Whether or not their personal views align with their colleagues’ is of no (or very little) concern to the respondents.  What’s more, few care.
  • Less than one in ten of the survey respondents feel that a “dominant” political viewpoint in the office that doesn’t happen to align with theirs is a source of discomfort. But either way, they’d prefer that such discussions not happen in the first place.
  • Despite the well-intentioned actions of some companies and brands, the majority of respondents feel that engaging in political or similar “cause” expressions adds no value to a company’s culture – nor does it create a healthy exchange of ideas in the workplace. Only about one-third of the respondents think that airing differing views will have beneficial outcomes within the office, while for everyone else, such discussions are viewed as having a “net negative” effect, adding no incremental value to a company’s “culture.”
  • At the same time that respondents wish for a less politically charged atmosphere in the office, a majority of them disagree with the notion of “codifying” political expression and expected behaviors in an employee manual or some other formal written policy statement. In other words, what constitutes “being an adult” isn’t something that should have to be spelled out in so many words.
  • What do respondents think of company owners or leaders expressing their political opinions or taking stands on controversial issues? That’s frowned upon, too. A clear majority of employees (~60%) disagree that company leadership should take stances on political issues – even if they’re relevant to their company’s own products or services. Instead, employees expect leaders to foster a culture of respect at work, including setting a standard that discourages political conversations up and down the chain.

There’s an important side benefit to discouraging discussion of socio-political topics in the office setting. All it takes is for a few “loudmouth” employees to risk creating a hostile work environment – and thus the open up grounds for complaints that could ultimately result in enormous financial costs to the company.

And one important final point came out of the Clutch research: For many employees, a part of their identities as people is connected to where they work.  Often, being an employee means more than simply having a job that pays the bills.  Anything that companies and brands can do to make that identity “work” for the vast majority of their employees will go a good way towards keeping morale high and avoiding the kind of fraught “drama” that can make it onto social media or even the news broadcasts.

[More information about the Clutch survey results can be accessed here.]

What about you?  What’s been your personal experience with employers in the “woke” era? Is your workplace one that is tolerant of all viewpoints while avoiding showing explicit (or implicit) support for any one view?  How successful has your company been in the current environment?  Please share your thoughts with other readers here.

Celebrity endorsements in advertising: All that glitters is not gold.

David Duchovny - Baume & Mercier Celebrity EndorsementWe love our celebrities, don’t we?

Christina Applegate takes motherhood … to celebrity status.

Zsa Zsa Gabor is a fabulous celebrity … and a panel of experts has been commissioned to find out why.

 His very existence … makes Prince William a celebrity.

Because the public goes so (Lady) gaga over celebrities, celebs have been used to hawk products and services for decades. Often, they can add pizzazz to what is otherwise a pretty routine advertising campaign. But how effective are the added glitz and glamour in ringing up additional sales?

I’ve long suspected that the value of celebrity endorsements might be over-hyped. Now we have some quantifiable proof. Ace Metrix, a California-based ad measurement firm, evaluated ~2,600 television ads shown during 2010. The company tested 263 unique national ads featuring celebrity endorsements, spanning 16 industries and 110 separate brands. All ads were tested within 48 hours of breaking nationally in order to capture immediate rather than “cultivated” ad effectiveness.

The celebrity ads were then evaluated against a control group of non-celeb ads in order to determine their comparative effectiveness in generating ad “lift” (better performance).

What the Ad Metrix analysis found was that only ~12% of the ads using celebrities showed more than 10% lift over average advertising norms in their respective industries. Even more startling, ~20% of the celebrity ads yielded 10% or worse (net negative) performance over the average advertising norms.

Here are some of the celebrities who had a “net negative” effect on their clients’ TV advertising effectiveness during 2010 – worst listed first:

Tiger Woods (Nike) – I guess this hardly comes as a surprise!
Lance Armstrong (Radio Shack)
Kenny Mayne (Gillette)
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (Nationwide Auto Insurance)
Donald Trump (Macy’s)

Which celebrities managed to generate better-than-average scores? Queen of the heap is Oprah Winfrey for her 2010 spots for Liberty Mutual and Progressive Insurance. Ed Burns (iShares) and Carl Weathers (Bud Light) took the other top honors in positive lift.

Peter Daboll, head of Ace Metrix, had this to say about the findings: “This research proves unequivocally that, contrary to popular belief, the investment in a celebrity in TV advertising is rarely worthwhile. It is the advertising message that creates the connection to the viewer in areas such as relevance, information and attention, and this remains the most important driver of ad effectiveness.”

Interestingly, Oprah’s ads weren’t pitching products per se, but rather addressing current issue topics – in this case, warning against texting while driving. So one way to get through to the consumer via a celebrity is if the content is informational rather than a sales pitch.

But if the goal of the advertising is product sales, chances are the more the celebrity is truly “connected” to an advertiser’s product or service, the more successful he or she will be in engaging the target audience beyond simply the “curiosity factor.”

You can read detailed findings from the Ace Metrix analysis here.