Managing civil political conversations in the workplace is always a challenge for employers and can often feel like navigating a minefield in an election year. Within an increasingly polarizing political environment, it can certainly be easy to let political discussion between employees quickly escalate into argument or conflict. While the presence of political discussion in the workplace is, and will continue to be a reality, there are several ways HR leaders can proactively encourage healthy and amicable political discussion.
In this post, we’ll cover:
- The presence and impact of political discussion within the workplace
- Proactively addressing the topic of political discussion with employees
- Finding solutions to conflict resulting from hostile political discussion
Balancing employee rights’ and wellbeing amidst political discussion
Local and national politics is a common and naturally occurring topic of discussion in almost every workplace. While these conversations aren’t inherently harmful, they can present opportunities for negative interaction between employees that can adversely affect employee relationships and productivity. A 2019 poll, led by Human Resource Management, found that one-third of all employees felt their organization was not inclusive to differing political perspectives. Additionally, a 2019 survey conducted by the American Psychological Association reports that 1 in every 4 employees feels negatively affected by political discussion in the workplace. This negative impact can lead to increased feelings of stress and decreased productivity and quality of work.
As an HR leader, it’s important to ensure a comfortable and inclusive working environment for all employees, regardless of political affiliation or personally held beliefs. Banning discussion topics like politics can be an infringement on employees’ constitutional rights, and this sort of micromanaging can contribute to negative workplace culture. Instead, employers can mitigate potential conflict by acknowledging the occurrence of political conversations and propose steps to foster civil discussion.
Proactive steps for respectful discussion
While the presence of political discussion in the workplace may present challenges to peaceable employee interactions and general productivity, there are several steps that employers can take to promote respectful conversations that provide a comfortable workplace environment for everyone.
Begin by proactively addressing your expectations for your employees when engaging in political conversation. Clarify that you understand these discussions will take place, but underscore your expectation that all discussion will be done with respect and civility in order to uphold your culture of inclusion and comradery. By making your expectations clear and reinforcing your commitment to a healthy work culture, your employees will understand your intentions to be in their collective benefit.
Leading by example at all times is imperative in order to maintain civil discussions around politics. When leaders show respect and deference to all employees regardless of their real or perceived political differences, they are encouraging this same behavior in their subordinates. Leading by example in this way also makes employees feel comfortable in sharing their opinions and ideas, even if their political ideology differs from that of their leader. Additionally, when leaders set a tone of respect and nonpartisanship, employees can expect that their personal views will not be an obstacle in their workplace advancement.
As political beliefs are often intricately entwined with personal beliefs and experiences, political conversations may be stressful for employees—even if that employee is not actively participating in the discussion. Make your employees aware of available resources, such as an employee assistance program (EAP) or any workplace wellness programs that your organization may offer.
Above all, it is crucial that leaders encourage a culture of respect between all their employees. While it is unrealistic that everyone on your team will agree on every topic, maintaining a respectful attitude in all employee interactions is certainly a reasonable expectation.
Resolving conflict as a result of political differences
While some more tense employee conflict may need to involve your HR team, most hostility stemming from political differences can be smoothed out by a conversation with a team leader. In resolving conflict, remember to emphasize respect for all opinions and focus on problematic employee behaviors, not beliefs. An employee’s specific beliefs and political opinions are not relevant, but their behavior in the workplace is. Clearly and neutrally outline what kinds of behaviors are appropriate and what is unwelcome in the workplace, without directly or indirectly instructing how an employee should feel about political issues.
If you find your workplace is increasingly running into politically charged altercations, consider holding training sessions with your team. Training sessions can demonstrate respect and increase trust, even when employees don’t see eye to eye. These sessions should focus on attuning employees to understand how their actions might negatively impact their colleagues without criticizing individuals or a specific political ideology. By displaying strategies for engaging in polite and civil political discussion, employees can find acceptable ways to navigate conversations they wish to participate in or avoid.
The discussion of politics is an inherent right every American may enjoy, and it is natural to find those discussions among employees in the workplace. While political discussion may present some obstacles to HR leaders, or serve as a cause for friction between coworkers, these challenges may be mitigated by focusing on the following takeaways:
- Understand that political discussion can be stressful for some employees, and that emphasizing a respectful environment for all will help to lessen stress and maintain or improve productivity
- HR managers and organizational leaders can take proactive steps to encourage respectful political conversations between employees by addressing their expectations for civil discussions up front, leading by example, and making resources available
- Conflict rooted in political disagreement may be resolved by outlining acceptable and unacceptable employee behaviors without criticizing an employee’s personal beliefs or political loyalties
If you’re interested in learning more actionable strategies on managing conversations about race, religion, and politics in the workplace, please register for our upcoming webinar:
The webinar will cover:
- Are employees of private employers protected by the First Amendment while at work?
- What is the Illinois – Anti-Retaliation Law and how does it impact your business?
- What anti-discrimination and anti-harassment concerns should employers have?
- How to structure effective workplace policies about political activity
- Best practices for managing potentially divisive political conversations in the workplace