Politics has always been a sensitive subject—but in today’s climate, it has become even more contentious and divisive. In fact, one survey found that nearly 50% of employees have witnessed a political conversation escalate into an argument at work. In a survey by the American Psychological Association (APA), one-quarter of employees reported feeling stressed by co-workers discussing politics in the workplace, negatively impacting productivity. To avoid letting politics in the workplace create a toxic work environment, many businesses are looking for effective strategies to guide employees. Learn five ways to handle political conversation in the office and what your firm can do to maintain a positive, productive work environment.

Why HR managers are concerned

A political discussion gone awry has the potential to disrupt productivity and sour work relationships—especially if it is a recurring disagreement. If political discussions begin to affect work quality, output, and morale, it’s affecting your business and bottom line. Additionally, talking about politics can negatively impact company culture and “prompt lawsuits claiming harassment, discrimination, intimidation, or a hostile work environment.

Talking politics—is it ok or not?

When it comes to the workplace, most people believe it’s awkward to engage in political conversations. In a recent survey, about 40% of U.S. workers reported that divisive political rhetoric at the office “has caused at least one negative outcome for them, whether in the form of reduced productivity, poorer work quality, difficulty getting work done, increased hostility in the workplace or having a more negative view of co-workers.”Since an outright ban on political discussions in the workplace is unrealistic, many organizations are focusing on what they can do to frame the conversation and ensure healthy work relationships. It’s most important for your employees to feel comfortable being themselves at work, while also being respectful and accommodating of differences with others.

Five ways to handle political discussion in the office

Competitive organizations are laying out ground rules for employees discussing politics in the workplace so they know what’s okay and what is not. Here are five best practices you can use to effectively handle political discussion in the office:

1. Know the laws. Check your state laws that govern political discussions in the workplace and understand how they affect your business and the content of the discussion or expression. Even though free speech is protected under the Constitution, a private employer does have the right to restrict political discussion and expression in the office—especially if it is getting in the way of work. However, some topics such as labor issues are protected by the First Amendment even at a private company. Be sure to discuss your employer rights and responsibilities with your legal counsel so you know how to respond to a variety of situations.

2. Be visible and lead by example. Cable news channels, Internet news feeds, and social media have made politics part of our daily lives both at work and at home. Rather than censoring all political conversation at the office, HR managers should aim to be visible and lead by example. Know what employees are talking about, show compassion, and demonstrate appropriate responses.

3. Teach civility. If a political discussion gets heated, the situation can become unpredictable. Urge employees to focus on common ground and remain civil. If someone starts getting emotional, it’s time to end the conversation. Teach employees to recognize boundaries and show respect for differing opinions. If appropriate, provide conflict resolution training to employees and managers.

4. Create a formal policy. Most likely, your business already has workplace safety policies in place that protect employees from aggressive, disrespectful, and threatening behavior. Make sure your policies also include language that governs political expression and discussion. For example, your organization can ban political solicitation at work—that means employees can’t wear any clothing, signs, or pins or distribute materials that promote a candidate or slogan.

5. Provide support. Recognize that politics can cause employee stress. Be supportive and share information about employee benefits and other resources available to help including employee assistance programs, mental health resources, flexible work arrangements, and wellness activities.

Political discussion and your workforce

Don’t let discussions about politics disrupt productivity in the workplace or destroy employee morale. Understand the laws governing political discussion in the workplace, lay out the ground rules, and promote positive interactions and understanding. By setting the right expectations for political conversations in the workplace, your business will maintain a healthy, productive, and supportive work environment that attracts and retains top talent. Asure Software’s HR as a Service helps you keep up with the latest legislation, recruit new talent, and deal with all the administration that goes with managing people.

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