Political discussion has and will continue to be a reality in many work environments. Work can already be a stressful place for many, with political discussion adding an additional stressor for employees—and in many cases, an additional concern for employers. While disagreement in and of itself isn’t always a detriment to all workplaces, political discussion can negatively affect the work environment for many employees.
This article addresses the impact that political discussion has in the workplace and steps that employers can consider to help keep political discussion civil.
In a poll conducted in 2019 from the Society for Human Resource Management, 56% of employees reported that political discussion had become more common in the preceding four years. The same poll found that, while two-thirds of employees felt their organization was inclusive to different political perspectives, one-third of employees felt their organization was not.
In many cases, political discussion is a natural element of a work environment, and doesn’t directly impact all employees in a negative way. However, that isn’t always the case. In an American Psychological Association survey conducted in 2019, they found that 1 of every 4 employees reports being negatively impacted by political discussion in the workplace. The survey found that this impact can lead to:
Political discussion presents a challenge both for HR professionals and leaders within an organization. How do you respect employees’ ability to discuss politics with their peers, while keeping these discussions civil?
Outright banning of political discussion can infringe upon employees’ rights. It is nearly impossible to achieve a workplace devoid of political discussion, and overreaching or micromanaging measures can be even worse than allowing political discussions in the first place. But employers can acknowledge that these discussions often do take place, and thoughtfully take steps to focus on making sure these discussions don’t negatively impact their workplace. There isn’t an easy answer for how to keep political discussion civil, but employers can strive to foster an environment built on respect and trust.
Employers can consider proactive and thoughtful steps to address expectations, encourage respect and create an environment that remains civil. These considerations include:
Some laws protect particular speech and forms of expression for employees in the workplace, such as discussion of unionization. This complexity makes it difficult to ban political dialogue altogether. As well, some states and cities have specific laws. Employers should be aware that laws related to political expression vary by locality, and before implementing or changing workplace policies, employers should seek legal advice from local legal counsel.
Political discussion is a complex topic that isn’t always easy to address, but employers can take proactive steps to help facilitate a respectful environment that encourages civil discussion.
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