Politics in the Workplace: Laying the Groundwork for Healthy Discussions

Should discussing politics be allowed in the workplace?  In today’s political landscape any mention of candidates, personal views or opinions can not only impact performance but potentially lead to bullying.

With the presidential election just weeks away, politics is at the top of many American’s minds.  What rights do employees have to tempering discussions? From a legal perspective, the first amendment does not protect an employees’ right to free speech in the workplace and an employer can forbid political discussions in a private workplace.  Speech by public sector employees may be protected by the First Amendment if it is a matter of public concern.

A Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) poll conducted last October found that 42 percent of employees have had a “political disagreement” at work, and 12 percent have experienced political affiliation bias.  And according to a new survey by staffing firm Robert Half, 22% of professionals feel it’s appropriate to discuss politics with colleagues, while 26% believe it’s never OK. Just over half (53%) say it depends on the situation.

So, is there a way to allow for a balanced discussion around one of the most pertinent topics of the time?

If your organization is comfortable with being part of the political discussion a good way to engage employees on the issue is to lay some ground rules and expectations, including limits as to when a conversation should be shut down.  Below are some tips to help you lay the groundwork.

  • Define expression vs. oppression
  • Separate the importance of fact from fiction (prohibit fake news)
  • Encourage engagement only up to an employees’ comfort level
  • Respect your colleagues, opinions or disinvolvement
  • Create a safe space.  Consider creating a message/chat room for employees to discuss – this provides a platform for employees to voice their opinions in a healthy manner with some oversight.
  • If the conversation(s) gets too heated don’t be afraid to shut it down. It’s okay to say “let’s agree to disagree.”

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