How to Manage Political Discussions at Work

August 18, 2020

Since the events of the 2016 election, it has been hard, if not impossible, to separate political discussions and the workplace. A recent poll by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that over half (about 56%) of working Americans feel that there is an increase in the discussion of political issues over the last four years. 


While politics have always been a rather sensitive area to navigate, as we head towards the 2020 November elections, diametrically opposite views have become and feel increasingly personal. Despite where one may personally land on the political spectrum, the division wedged over the past few years have further entrenched individuals in their views, and such opposing beliefs can easily, if not certainly, permeate into the workplace.   
 

While employers cannot govern what people believe, HR professionals can help to set expectations around behavior such that differences amongst staff do not devolve into a toxic work environment. Below are some suggestions that one can take to ensure such:


•    Host training sessions on building a respectful workplace culture/
•    Establish internally definitions of opinion, harassment, bullying, and undermining actions to have a clear approach towards identifying and addressing certain behaviors.
•    Due to their potential influence, encourage managers to abstain from political discussions or comments (particularly with their subordinates). 
•    Limit or ban visual displays in the office such as, but not limited to, campaign flyers, stickers, and broadcasts with political content. 

 

It would be optimistic to assume that communications on social media will not permeate into the workplace. As such, employers should review social media policy to ensure key elements such as those listed below:

  • Establish expected behavioral norms in the use of social networking.

  • Educate team about being mindful of their privacy settings, being polite, and exercising good judgment.

  • Provide guidelines regarding social media networking that could be associated with or negatively impact the organization, employees or customers.

  • Encourage the use of disclaimers or speak in the first person to make it clear that opinions are not those of their employer.

>> It is important to note that the goal is not to ban certain types of speech, as there are laws that protect such but, more so, to help create space that is receptive and respectful.


At the end of the day, there is value in a diversity of opinions, and organizations should appreciate the different perspectives each individual can bring to a team. However, employers and HR leaders alike can set the expectation that individuals will be held accountable for abrasive behaviors that conflict with established policies. In doing so, we can help foster both inclusion and a more productive conversation. 


If you have additional questions around any of your policies, please do not hesitate to reach out to your HR advisor. 

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