4 Rules for Discussing Politics in the Workplace

There’s no other time as impossible to not get at least a little political at work than a presidential election season. The next few days will likely be spent discussing the events of today. A survey by Career Builder found that over 1/3 of workers talk about politics at work. So instead of issuing an outright ban on discussing politics in your workplace, make some no nonsense rules, and stick to them. Below, I’ve compiled 4 of the most simple and effective rules regarding politics in the workplace.

  1. Include political campaigning as some of the off-limits behavior on the company network in your electronic communications policy. You all undoubtedly have an electronic communications policy by now that dictates how an employee should behave on the company’s internet. This includes harassment and discrimination, which a constant barrage of political messages can feel like for someone who doesn’t share the same political views as the majority of their co-workers. Make sure to take these complaints seriously all of the time as well, not just during election season. If you let people know that politics via work email, chat, etc., will not be tolerated, then workers will be far less likely to abuse it.
  2. Include political campaigns as part of your no-solicitation policy. Again, a no-solicitation policy is something you likely already have in place in some form or another. Include into that policy that workers aren’t allowed to solicit for charities, political campaigns, or anything else that isn’t related to work during business hours. Make sure to enforce the no-solicitation rule for everyone too, so it isn’t just those passionate political types getting singled out.
  3. Create and implement policy limiting political speech by stating that anything that could make workers unproductive, offend potential or current clients, or disrupt the workplace is forbidden. Obviously an outright ban on discussing politics probably isn’t going to work. If you put in place, a policy that makes it clear when political speech is over the line, people will be better about policing themselves. When a worker doesn’t honor this rule, take complaints against them seriously. Also remind employees that it’s not only against the rules in some instances, but it makes some other workers feel uncomfortable.
  4. Create a strategy with supervisors during election seasons, to reduce the amount of political friction as much as possible. When political jargon is at maximum, like the last few weeks, it takes more than a policy implementation to prevent inappropriate political debates at work. Keep supervisors informed about ways to dissolve political arguments and keep the work environment as safe and neutral as possible during these potentially explosive times. Kevin Sheridan, senior VP of Avatar HR Solutions, knows that many people attempt to forbid political discussions at work  but thinks it’s largely pointless. Some employees just insist on participating in these discussions anyways. So before things get offensive and out of hand, learn how to diffuse situations.

“I think managers have to use common sense. This is an issue that employees are going to discuss. So it’s better to address it and get it out in the open.” says Sheridan.

Overall it’s best to avoid these kinds of discussions for a number of reasons. Unfortunately, it’s just not possible to eliminate these discussions from the workplace entirely during an election season. It is however, possible to steer dialogue into a more productive and less explosive direction. So get out there and vote! But tomorrow at work, avoid discussing the results in too much detail.

“I think managers can talk about that if you’re going to have these conversations, you need to be aware of how others may not agree with you. Managers can make a ground rule that workers must treat one another with respect when having these discussions.”

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