Management Tips··5 min read

Talking Politics At Work: Should You Allow It?

talking politics at work

It’s common knowledge that employees like to meet by the water cooler and chat, but what if that involves talking politics at work? After all, politics is a hot topic, so it’s to be expected that employees want to engage in political discussions and debates with colleagues. Read on to determine whether to turn a blind eye or prevent such scenarios.

Talking Politics At Work: Is It Good Or Bad?

The general consensus is that talking politics at work is never a good idea. The following reasons help explain why this is so:

  • Creates a divided workforce. Political discussions force people to take sides. Your employees won’t always share the same ideologies, and heated political topics can potentially damage workplace relationships.
  • Increases the risk of workplace aggression. When candidates win or lose elections, this can create friction between sore losers and gloating winners. Since strong feelings are at play, this can trigger negative emotional reactions, resulting in aggression.
  • Affects customers. Political talk can be highly disruptive to the point where it may potentially alienate customers who are exposed to these discussions.
  • Gives HR more work to do. A hostile work environment adds unnecessary work onto your plate. You’ll receive more reports about employees failing to get along because of political differences.
  • Reduces productivity. Allowing political discussions at work means the environment can no longer be neutral. It’s difficult for employees to collaborate effectively in a polarized environment. Employees are no longer focused on achieving the same goals but are distracted and divided by political issues. This doesn’t serve the company in any way, shape, or form.

Let’s Consider What The Law Says

When determining how to manage politics in the workplace, it’s also essential to understand what the law says about the issue. This is tricky because the law isn’t cut and dried and often varies from state to state. Usually, employees like to cite the First Amendment when explaining why they should be allowed to express their political views at work.

However, the First Amendment only applies to governments and not private companies. That means it’s well within your right to ban disruptive and potentially violent political discussions at work. Private organizations can regulate their employees’ speech, so workers don’t have the First Amendment to fall back on if caught violating the ethics of talking politics at work.

However, management still needs to be cautious. For example, the National Labor Relations Act still allows employees to discuss wages, paid leave, union activity, and working hours or conditions. In addition, some states prevent employers from punishing employees that engage in political activities.

Other states and municipalities also protect employees’ right to express political views. However, in most instances, private employees can limit political discussions at work. To be on the safe side, it’s best to seek counsel from legal professionals.

Do You Have A Policy For Talking Politics At Work?

Now that we have established why politics in the workplace is not good, it’s time to take steps to prevent it from happening. The first big step is creating a company policy that specifically addresses this issue. HR teams should keep the following in mind when creating a policy for talking politics at work:

  • Define what’s unacceptable. Political discussions in the workplace cause problems. If you want to nip this in the bud, you should outright ban potentially triggering behaviors. For instance, you can ban activities such as wearing political attire at work or campaigning during working hours on work premises.
  • Set clear expectations. You should be clear that the policy aims to foster respect. Communicate how important each team member is and lead by example by showing you don’t discriminate or retaliate against employees based on their political opinions or activities.
  • Consider other relevant policies. You should also evaluate other related policies to ensure the policy you’re creating complements existing policies. For instance, policies about diversity and inclusion, harassment, office decorations, codes of professional conduct, and dress code often have something in common with the no-politics policy.

Creating an airtight policy empowers employees to maintain healthy relationships and cultivate respect for each other. This keeps the company culture positive in the long run.

More Tips To Help You Prevent Politics At Work

As HR, it’s well within your power to prevent political conversations at work with these tips:

  • Hold training sessions. Holding training sessions at work will reinforce the company’s no-politics policy while helping employees understand the importance of respecting each other at work. Team members should also understand that it’s possible to have different political views and still work with each other to achieve shared goals successfully.
  • Lead by example. It’s essential that leaders and managers also adhere to the no-politics policy. Power and politics in the workplace can create a dangerous dynamic that polarizes the entire organization. The people at the top should avoid any behavior or speech that introduces political conversation in the workplace, such as when the boss openly supports a particular candidate.
  • Create a conducive environment. If you want to take talk of politics off the table, then you should create an environment that helps employees stick to the rules. For instance, make sure the office TV doesn’t run any political programs and eliminate any visual triggers, such as campaign posters.
  • Encourage employees to talk about more interesting topics. Discussions in the workplace should not be avoided completely. The right discussion topics help create camaraderie, making the environment more enjoyable to work in. Instead of talking about politics, encourage employees to discuss healthier issues, such as travel ideas, fun weekend activities, and which team-building activities to participate in.
  • Monitor the situation constantly. You should always know what employees are discussing when in the office. Be sure to remind employees of the company’s no-politics culture, especially during critical moments when certain political events occur.

The Final Word: Talking Politics At Work Is A Bad Idea

It’s safe to say that talking politics at work is something you should never encourage if you want to build a positive, collaborative, and productive culture. To sum it up, you should create an effective policy that prevents political discussions at work. Be ready to enforce this policy whenever the need arises and stay vigilant during tricky times, such as when there are upcoming elections.

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