Talking Politics: How to Handle Election Fever at Work

Talking politics in the workplace can be a recipe for disaster. Here’s how to monitor it.

The months leading up to an election have many employers and employees wondering what they can and should say in the office about politics. According to a recent survey by Zety, over 80% of workers admitted to discussing politics at work. The same study found that 1 in 3 people said they felt uncomfortable at work because of political discussions.

Considering that the partisan divide has become wider, this isn’t surprising. As a business owner or HR manager, it may be impossible to separate politics altogether, but you can control how it plays out. It’s more important than ever to have a plan for heated discussions so you can avoid workplace tension and possible disciplinary meetings.

The dos

Encouraging respect

There are a few things you can do to promote healthy discussion in the workplace. If you’ve been keeping up with building workplace relationships, you’re already off to a great start. If you come across employees entering into the political arena, be sure to remind them of the following:

Understand limits

While the law protects freedom of speech, that doesn’t necessarily mean political opinions carry no consequences. Make it clear to your employees what the limits are in the workplace regarding politics, especially if harsh words have been exchanged in the past.

Ask questions

Encourage your employees to ask questions as opposed to throwing political views back and forth. This is especially true if you disagree with an employee. Consider asking them why they have a certain opinion rather than try to counter. This is a great way to defuse the situation without shutting them down.

Be respectful

Emphasis on respecting each other’s stance. At the end of the day, everyone wants to feel comfortable and valued and work. If things appear to get out of hand, don’t be afraid to agree to disagree and focus on work matters.

3 things you shouldn’t do

Demonize

There’s no need to make the other party feel like the other. When you hear such language being tossed around — even when it’s being used against a candidate, it’s time to end the discussion.

Focus on hot-button issues

Issues linked to religious or moral beliefs — like abortion or gun control — can cause tension in the workplace. It’s better to talk about specific policies and solutions rather than commit to blanket statements. If a conversation is turning down a slippery slope, it may be best to switch gears.

Let people gloat

Some employees may get excited after an election win or a big debate, and decide to showoff. On days when emotion is high, it would be a safe bet to help your employees focus on something else and keep conversations clear of politics while at the office.

Should you talk about politics in the workplace?

In general, it may be better to remove politics from the workplace altogether. These discussions typically alienate coworkers, lower productivity, and increase mistrust in the office. Since elections play on our differences instead of our common ground, allowing too much political discussion can foster tensions and stress.

And there are many other topics that you can discuss beyond politics. Some possibilities include:

  • Recent or upcoming vacations
  • Recipes and restaurants
  • Sports
  • Weekend plans
  • Hobbies and volunteer work

While you can’t always monitor the conversation if you can balance effective team building and conflict management, you’ll be able to handle election season in the workplace.

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