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CEO and Co-founder of Wattapp Allen Lau poses while speaking to an employee at their offices In Toronto on October 4, 2013. Pawel Dwulit for the Globe and Mail (Pawel Dwulit For The Globe and Mail)
CEO and Co-founder of Wattapp Allen Lau poses while speaking to an employee at their offices In Toronto on October 4, 2013. Pawel Dwulit for the Globe and Mail (Pawel Dwulit For The Globe and Mail)

Should company leaders voice their views on Trump? Add to ...

Emotions were running high at the office of Toronto-based online publishing company Wattpad the day after Donald Trump’s surprise victory in the U.S. election. Some staff shed tears after watching Hillary Clinton give her concession speech. Wattpad co-founder and CEO Allen Lau used his daily blog to staff to try to put a positive spin on the reaction, talking about human resilience, what happens when a business loses touch with customers, and how Wattpad could benefit by trying to lure skilled American workers to Canada.

His final thoughts were the most pointed: “While Trump being elected is certainly a setback in humanity, I do believe that the future is not as grim as you may think,” Mr. Lau wrote in the piece, which he then posted on his personal blog and on social media.

It was a potentially risky move for a company with American customers and investors and where 10 of its 130 employees are American.

Still, Mr. Lau believes the post was relevant and necessary.

“It all ties back to the company’s values and the community we are building, which is very positive and inclusive,” he says. “I believe it’s not just work – and then after work. Those two worlds are very connected. If the emotional well-being of our employees isn’t great, it impacts business as well.”

So far, he says, the feedback to his article has been positive.

“On a day where … people are surprised, upset or depressed, having such a positive note, there is no downside, only upside,” Mr. Lau says.

Some company leaders who expressed an opinion about the election results, on either side, have faced public backlash.

Chicago-based online food delivery service Grubhub was criticized after CEO Matt Maloney wrote an e-mail suggesting staff that support Mr. Trump should resign. “If you do not agree with this statement then please reply to this e-mail with your resignation because you have no place here. We do not tolerate hateful attitudes on our team,” Mr. Maloney wrote.

Consumers are also boycotting Boston-based New Balance, and burning its shoes, after the vice– president of public affairs, Matthew LeBretton, told the Wall Street Journal Mr. Trump’s election is a “move in the right direction.” New Balance says the comments were taken out of context and related to their opposition, like Mr. Trump, of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. That hasn’t stopped the public revolt.

“Companies need to be cognizant of the fact that there may be very diverse opinions in their workplace or among their client and customer group,” says David King, Canadian director of human resource consulting firm Robert Half, noting that it can “inflame the discussion by making it more dramatic.”

Mat Wilcox, a crisis communications expert and CEO of Toronto-based Wilcox Group, says most leaders should steer clear of politics, especially if their business has a broad range of customers.

“If you’re going to tie politics to your company, you’re walking on thin ice,” Ms. Wilcox says. “You don’t know if it’s going to be okay, and you don’t know if it’s not … Be the one who works on facts.”

The exception could be organizations, such as women’s groups or others who felt slighted by Trump’s comments during the campaign, which could benefit from being vocal.

“The people who do it right are the ones who really know their audience and who buys from them – and they don’t care what the ramifications are,” she says.

For leaders who still feel compelled to make a statement, Ms. Wilcox recommends working off the emotion, but not the politics.

It’s the approach Kiem Schutter, founder and chief of staff at Vancouver-based Qi Integrated Health, took when he wrote a note to his staff after Mr. Trump’s recent win.

“The stresses that this election result has put on to us and to our patients should not be overlooked,” wrote Mr. Schutter, whose company offers services such as massage therapy, acupuncture and naturopathic medicine. “For those who were most passionate about this topic, it is a time of deep sadness. Please be aware that this affects everyone in different ways.”

Mr. Schutter, who says he doesn’t usually write notes to his 56-member team of health practitioners, felt compelled to say something after seeing their emotional reaction to Mr. Trump’s win, as well as their clients.

“It just seemed like an opportunity for us to do good on something so simple … to let people know you stand with them and are here to help,” says Mr. Schutter, who also posted his note on social media. “It’s a good time also because the emotions right now are so raw.”

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