Politics has always been a sensitive subject—but in today’s climate, it has become even more contentious and divisive. In fact, one survey found that nearly 50% of employees have witnessed a political conversation escalate into an argument at work. In a survey by the American Psychological Association (APA), one-quarter of employees reported feeling stressed by co-workers discussing politics in the workplace, negatively impacting productivity. To avoid letting politics in the workplace create a toxic work environment, many businesses are looking for effective strategies to guide employees. Learn five ways to handle political conversation in the office and what your firm can do to maintain a positive, productive work environment.
Why HR managers are concerned
A political discussion gone awry has the potential to disrupt productivity and sour work relationships—especially if it is a recurring disagreement. If political discussions begin to affect work quality, output, and morale, it’s affecting your business and bottom line. Additionally, talking about politics can negatively impact company culture and “prompt lawsuits claiming harassment, discrimination, intimidation, or a hostile work environment.”
Talking politics—is it ok or not?
When it comes to the workplace, most people believe it’s awkward to engage in political conversations. That being said, about 60% of UK workers think it is ok to talk about politics, as long as it doesn’t get too personal. For example, about half would not share who they are voting for, and more than three-quarters wouldn’t ask a coworker who they were voting for. Since an outright ban on political discussions in the workplace is unrealistic, many organisations are focusing on what they can do to frame the conversation and ensure healthy work relationships. It’s most important for your employees to feel comfortable being themselves at work, while also being respectful and accommodating of differences with others.
Five ways to handle political discussion in the office
Competitive organisations are laying out ground rules for employees discussing politics in the workplace so they know what’s okay and what is not. Here are five best practises you can use to effectively handle political discussion in the office:
1. Know the laws. Understand any laws that govern political discussions in the workplace and how they affect your business and the content of the discussion or expression. Even though free speech is protected, a private employer may have the right to restrict political discussion and expression in the office—especially if it is getting in the way of work or causing potential harm to employees. In the UK, freedom of speech is not absolute in all cases in the workplace. However, some topics such as labour issues, may be protected by free speech laws, even at a private company. Discuss your rights and responsibilities as an employer with legal counsel as you craft any policy regarding political speech.
2. Be visible and lead by example. Cable news channels, Internet news feeds, and social media have made politics part of our daily lives both at work and at home. Rather than censoring all political conversation at the office, HR managers should aim to be visible and lead by example. Know what employees are talking about, show compassion, and demonstrate appropriate responses.
3. Teach civility. If a political discussion gets heated, the situation can become unpredictable. Urge employees to focus on common ground and remain civil. If someone starts getting emotional, it’s time to end the conversation. Teach employees to recognise boundaries and show respect for differing opinions. If appropriate, provide conflict resolution training to employees and managers.
4. Create a formal policy. Most likely, your business already has workplace safety policies in place that protect employees from aggressive, disrespectful, and threatening behaviour. Make sure your policies also include language that governs political expression and discussion. For example, your organisation can ban political solicitation at work—that means employees can’t wear any clothing, signs, or pins or distribute materials that promote a candidate or slogan.
5. Provide support. Recognise that politics can cause employee stress. Be supportive and share information about employee benefits and other resources available to help including employee assistance programmes, mental health resources, flexible work arrangements, and wellness activities.
Political discussion and your workforce
Don’t let discussions about politics disrupt productivity in the workplace or destroy employee morale. Understand the laws governing political discussion in the workplace, lay out the ground rules, and promote positive interactions and understanding. By setting the right expectations for political conversations in the workplace, your business will maintain a healthy, productive, and supportive work environment that attracts and retains top talent. Asure Software’s HR as a Service helps you keep up with the latest legislation, recruit new talent, and deal with all the administration that goes with managing people.