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Talking About Politics in the Workplace

political discussions surround the 2020 presidential election can become a source of division in the workplace

In a historic presidential election year, with all the shocking events that have transpired in 2020, politics are emotional and can feel personal. It’s understandable that people want to talk about what is going on in government and in the world. But is it ok to talk politics at work? What about the old adage that there are three things you don’t talk about: politics, religion, and money? Can employers control what their employees talk about in the workplace? Should they even try? 

Political discourse in the workplace can cause division and discomfort, which can quickly lead to distractions and disruptions in productivity and focus. As 2020 has been full of historic and unprecedented events, employers may want to be sensitive to how that affects their employees and allow people the outlet of talking about things including politics. However, giving some boundaries to political discussion at work helps limit its impact on business productivity and culture. 

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Let’s Talk About It 

Experts like Robert Half executive director Paul McDonald say people can talk about politics respectfully, and because of the pandemic, more are open to discussing things they may not have before. Legal professionals like Doug Kaufman advise against strictly enforcing a no-discussing-politics policy in the uncertain and emotional climate that 2020 has created. 

Kaufman reminds employers that they don’t have to accept everything as open for discussion in the workplace, as the First Amendment right to free speech only applies to government workplaces and not the private sector. However, McDonald advises providing guidance for political discussions, including reminding employees to keep it civil and not confrontational, ensuring employees know they are not obligated to participate in political discussion, and letting them know they have a right to express if they are uncomfortable with what they hear. 

Why Another Policy 

Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations press officer Steve Flamisch reminds employers that they “must make sure employees feel protected and supported by the organizational climate.” That often means steering the mood and activities to respectful conversation and not allowing political signage at desks or common areas, as well as other symbols such a buttons and stickers with political messaging. 

Training to include harassment prevention, conflict management, workplace culture, and diversity are important in guiding respectful and controlled political discussion at work. HR professionals like janitorial firm USSI vice president of human resources Danna Hewick says it’s important to not allow offensive, harassing, and disruptive discussion and conduct in the workplace.

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Create a Policy about Political Discussion at Work 

While conversation and talking about things are a big part of human nature and being social, employers should pay attention to what their employees are talking about while at work. The American Psychological Association’s study in 2016 found that one in four employees were negatively affected by political talk during that year’s election season. 

The “Politics in the Workplace: 2016 Election Season” survey found employees reported feeling stressed and affected their work productivity because of political discussions at work, had more negative feelings, and experienced more isolation and workplace hostility because of talking about or hearing talk about politics during the work day. The worldwide pandemic, racial unrest and protesting, and 2020 U.S. presidential election are on everyone’s minds. Employers can plan to guide and control discussions at work to keep employees supported and enabled to stay productive and able to contribute.