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5 Ways to Navigate Political Discourse at Work

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  • Leadership & Strategy

5 Ways to Navigate Political Discourse at Work

Elections and political discourse at work

It’s election season, and even if the polls are miles from work, you’ll hear political discourse in the hallways or on a Zoom call.

And it might not be pretty.

Political conversations can make people uncomfortable. Worse, politics can actually have an impact on business.

In the HiBob study, “Sociopolitics in the US Workplace:”

  • 81% of employees believe sociopolitical discussions should be kept off company communication channels
  • 47% feel that companies should intervene and restrict employees from posting their political opinions
  • 50% of employees are concerned that sharing political views with their manager could harm their job and relationships, and
  • 61% felt the same about sharing political opinions with a colleague.

“Political conversations can result in a workplace that feels exclusive for some employees and can cause employee productivity to decrease,” says Rick Hammell, SPHR, Founder & Chief Executive Officer of Helios, “It’s crucial for employees to be comfortable in the workplace, so they can optimize their productivity and ensure work responsibilities won’t be put on the back burner.”

Political Discourse Still on the Table

Many employees know it’s in bad taste to talk politics in the office … but they still do it. In fact, 83% of Americans admitted in a Zety poll that they talk about politics at work. But just 8% of companies have shared workplace guidelines on political discussions at work. 

“Ultimately, political conversations are going to happen at work whether they’re ‘banned’ or not,” says David Rice, HR expert at People Managing People. “Trust me, you’ll want a formal policy around political speech in your business in place before things go nuclear between two employees who don’t see eye-to-eye on a hot-button issue.”

Of course, HR probably can’t stop employees from talking about politics completely, but you can — and and probably want to — give some framework on how it’ll be handled.

“Employers can also be proactive in issuing guidelines, as they should recognize the possibility for political discourse at work – especially during an election year,” says Hammell. “Guidelines that answer where and when, as well as how employees can navigate political discussions at work can make it clear to employees what is expected of them and what is allowed.”

Here are five points to make and share when it comes to politics in the workplace.

Lean into a Code of Conduct Policy

If you don’t already have one, create a Code of Conduct Policy — add it to an existing employee handbook or let it stand on its own, covering several etiquette matters at work.

“This should include things like wearing appropriate workwear (without slogans/offensive language) and how the organization promotes open and transparent communication both between employees and externally,” says Rice.

Give examples of the types of conversations you expect to be avoided in the workplace — for instance, politics, religion, race and anything that could be considered discriminatory — and tips on how to exit them and/or report incivility.

Promote an Official Political Discrimination Policy

While a policy against any form of discrimination can cover political discourse, you might want to create one specific to politics.

“It’s important your policy includes unwelcome behavior such as jokes, insults or gestures so there are no blurred lines around this. Make it clear that any employee engaging in such behavior will face disciplinary action if necessary,” says Rice.

What’s more, include “guidelines for positive and respectful online communication. This includes refraining from sharing politically charged content on company channels,” Rice advises.

As in all legal and discriminatory matters, work with your in-house counsel or an employment law attorney to craft and enforce the policies.  

Help Employees Recognize Discrimination, Harassment

Policies and guidelines aren’t worth more than the paper they’re printed on (or screen they’re seen on) if they aren’t understood and enforced.

“Provide regular training on handling political conflicts at work and recognizing signs of discrimination or harassment,” says Rice. “This training can help employees identify potential issues early on and take appropriate action before they escalate.”

Add this to new-hire and ongoing training.

Encourage Neutrality, Respect

You probably can’t ban all discussions on sensitive topics, but you’ll want to continue to encourage everyone to respect each other’s beliefs and avoid inflammatory topics. 

“If political conversations do happen in the workplace, it is best to remain neutral, respectful and encourage viewpoints from all sides,” says Hammell. “It’s also important to respect your peers’ privacy on any topic, including politics. If a co-worker does not wish to engage in political discussions at work, do not pressure them to disclose their beliefs or attempt to sway their voting choices.”

Keep It Real

Appeal to people’s common sense, too. Talking politics can be a regrettable conversation. Forty-five percent of employees admit they regretted getting into political debates at work, a ResumeHelp survey found. And more than half believe political talks hurt the workplace environment.

“These findings suggest that political discussions at work can absolutely have a negative impact on employees’ experience in their workplace,” said Maria Correa, a career expert at ResumeHelp. “Additionally, when workers disagree with a company’s political position or with their boss’ political affiliation, it can impact not just morale but also retention and a company’s ability to recruit and hire.”

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