Blue double doors at a polling station

How to Handle Politics in the Workplace

by Randy Ardis, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, on November 08, 2016
As the temperature outside gets cooler, political temperatures are on the rise. Whether you are at a social event, on social media, or in the office --- the political debate is alive and well this year as we all go to the polls to elect a new president.
This campaign may be making some of us dissatisfied at work.
A recent study by the Society for Human Resource Management showed a dramatic uptick in election-related workplace tension.  In May of this year, the percentage of workplaces reporting higher tension doubled.  Most companies in the study state that the situation is much worse than they have seen in previous elections.
So…how do we handle politics in the workplace? Do we ban the discussions altogether?  Do we allow civil discourse?  If so, is there a specific time and place that is appropriate?

To believe that politics won’t be discussed at work is unrealistic.
People discuss a lot of things at work that they probably shouldn’t… let’s save that for another blog post.  Politics is a subject that is protected speech; the NLRB classifies it as “protected concerted activity.”
So, if two employees are discussing politics and they have differing views, that’s okay as long as they are respectful and kind to each other and to others, and they don’t become disruptive or interfere with productivity. When people discuss matters in a professional, respectful manner, everyone benefits as it opens our minds to others’ perspectives.

However, when conversations become disruptive, divisive, and non-productive, leaders have the responsibility to step in to remind employees that there is a time, place, and a proper way for us to have these discussions. It’s not that we can’t have the discussions at work; they just need to be done respectfully and at an appropriate time.

How can we be fair and equitable to all?
If your company doesn’t have an existing policy relating to discussion of politics in the workplace (as almost two-thirds of companies do not), it may be in your best interest to talk with your employees about your expectations.  Reminding employees that while in the workplace, the expectation is to be professional and respectful.  Being civil with each other is the most important thing!

Today, there will be one winner in this race. But in the long run, employees will return to their own sense of “normal.”  Well, let’s hope so.
Randy Ardis, SPHR, SHRM-SCP

Randy is a seasoned HR Professional with 23 years of exempt-level experience in the fields of manufacturing, telecommunications, entertainment, and service industries. He holds a Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration with a concentration in HR Management from Winthrop University. A certified Senior Human Resources Professional (SPHR) and Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP), Randy is highly experienced in Employee Relations, Staffing & Recruiting, and Training. Randy has been a Florida resident for eight years, and has spent most of his career in the Southeastern United States. He is active in the Greater Pensacola Society for Human Resources Management chapter, the Pensacola Chamber’s HR Managers Roundtable – has served as Co-Chair, Northwest Florida Manufacturer’s Council member, Central Gulf Coast Industrial Alliance’s Workforce Development Team, and a member of the Northwest Florida Skilled Technician Talent Supply Task Force.

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