How to keep politics at bay in the workplace

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Politics play a significant role in people's lives, but can also cause conflict in the workplace. Learn how to avoid in-office political conflict, while respecting beliefs.

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Politics are an inevitable aspect of life in modern society. With the 2020 elections looming, it's particularly important for employers to be aware of how to handle potential issues in the workplace because political conversations are inevitable in professional environments. 

The majority (78%) of employees said they discuss politics at work and nearly half (47%) of employees report being distracted at work by the 2020 US presidential election, according to a Gartner report.
 
While political dialogue is natural, the topic is also sensitive and can quickly become inflammatory. With an election on the horizon, organizations need to have an effective employee political activity policy in place. TechRepublic Premium's Employee Political Activity Policy is a resource for employers to use when setting guidelines for their own organization.  

SEE: Employee Political Activity Policy (TechRepublic Premium)

Should politics be discussed?

"I think people should feel safe and comfortable to discuss political issues in the workplace. Most of us are spending 40-50 hours per week in a shared space with our coworkers. And, if you work remotely, you are likely interacting with the same group of people," said Betty Rodriguez, senior workplace analyst of FitSmallBusiness.com. 

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"However, it can be problematic if the topic takes over during meetings or larger company gatherings because it forces a larger group of people to listen and possibly engage," Rodriguez said. "This is how issues may arise when others no longer feel that they can avoid sticky topics within the environment they expect to be neutral or politics-free."

SEE: Employee Political Activity Policy (TechRepublic Premium)

Rodriguez advised that leadership use its platform to communicate helpful guidelines on how to handle politics across the company. A fine line exists between creating a culture of safe conversation without suppressing free thought and speech. 

"This might be a simple heads up to teams to minimize political banter in large group settings or it might require stricter parameters," Rodriguez said. "A company-wide memo might suffice, while other situations may require deeper conversations among teams to address the effects of discussing politics at work," Rodriguez said. "Ultimately, there is a time and a place for everything, and if you can help teams understand this, without trying to stifle them, people will continue to exchange thoughts and ideas with a higher sense of awareness for their surroundings." 

Guidelines for political talk in the workplace

"Employees are expecting action and policy from their organizations during this time," said Brian Kropp, chief of research in the Gartner HR practice. "HR leaders need to ensure that employee emotions and behaviors associated with the current political environment don't distract and disengage the workforce or create a hostile work environment."

He suggested that organizations re-emphasize policies already in place surrounding diversity and inclusion.This action helps organizations ensure a safe environment for all employees regardless of personal views. 

SEE: Employee Political Activity Policy (TechRepublic Premium)

Companies also need to equip managers with the skills to recognize signs of distress or possible tense political discussion among team members, Kropp said. 

Some 36% of employees said that the topic of the 2020 US presidential election has led them to avoid talking to or working with a coworker because of their political views, according to the Gartner report.  

"Organizations do need a plan for how to ensure collaboration continues among employees with different political beliefs," Kropp said. "Without a plan on what companies will do, there is all but a guarantee that conflict will occur."  

Businesses can easily and quickly integrate plans by downloading TechRepublic Premium's Employee Political Activity Policy. The policy addresses company compliance with laws related to employee political activity; it outlines prohibited behavior, standards on how employees are expected to represent their views on company and personal social media, and more. 

The TechRepublic Premium's Employee Political Activity Policy is available as a free download for TechRepublic Premium subscribers or for individual purchase. 

SEE: Employee Political Activity Policy (TechRepublic Premium)

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