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Talking Politics in the Workplace

Knowledge Center / Blog

Talking Politics in the Workplace

By The Employer Group - Nov 07, 2018

With all the elections this week, it will be difficult NOT to talk politics at work. So, as a manager or executive, what role do you play in addressing these conversations?

Because we spend most of our waking hours with our colleagues, it seems natural to feel the need to process our thoughts and feelings with them.

However, simply put, politics often don’t make for good workplace conversation. Politics is just another topic where emotions run strong, the stakes are high, and opinions vary. A person’s political views are usually based on strongly-held personal values, are emotional or opinion based, and there’s likely no chance a person will re-think his position, but rather only become re-trenched in his point-of-view. And, because politics are so issue-based – race, religion, sex – these conversations could lead to discriminatory comments or perceptions.

Recognize there are legal consequences to political discussions. A few things to keep in mind:

  • You cannot ask employees to vote a certain way or to contribute money to candidates or political action committees.
  • You cannot discipline or fire someone if you don’t like the way they voted.
  • You can restrict political speech at work, but keep in mind employees can be protected in some instances, especially when discussing working conditions and wages.

There are also cultural consequences to consider:

  • Do you want to promote divisiveness or cooperation?
  • Do you want productivity negatively influenced by highly-charged, emotional conversations?
  • Do you want employees to harbor bias and resentment that could lead to harassment and discrimination claims?

Employees will be looking to you for cues on what they can and cannot talk about. If you discourage political discussions among staff, others will follow. If you keep your political opinions to yourself, others may do the same. If employees see you deflect or disengage from these conversations, they will probably follow the same course.

If you care about the legal and cultural consequences of talking politics (which tends to reflect views on topics related to discrimination), your best bet is to create and maintain a culture of respect in the organization and take a non-partisan, apolitical approach in the workplace.

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