Let’s face it. The country is divided politically, and people may have very strong opinions on both sides of the aisle. Don’t let political discussions mar national holiday celebrations at your workplace.
Political conversations can be disruptive, particularly at a time when organizations are still recovering from the COVID pandemic. Workers are still exhausted and stressed out. The focus needs to be on uniting teams, demonstrating mutual respect and concern, and boosting retention and engagement. Politics at work can isolate certain people and create a hostile, tense atmosphere.
What can you do? Start with the facts. First and foremost, the First Amendment protects people against government retribution for speaking out and expressing their opinions. However, political speech isn’t federally protected at work. Of course, some states and regions do protect employee’s political expression and/or prohibit employers from discriminating against workers because of their political beliefs or activities. However, private companies generally can legally limit political expression at work.
You can’t make everyone at work agree or live in complete harmony, but you can take a few steps to keep the political temperature down at work, particular during patriotic holidays:
- Have a clear policy about political speech/activity. Include this in your employee handbook, address it in onboarding, and remind employees about it during election season or when things seem to be heating up. Apply the policy consistently across the board and at all levels.
- Make it clear that mutual respect among colleagues is mandatory. Let staff know that they should feel free to report any concerns they have or instances where they feel they’ve been harassed or bullied.
- Monitor workplace discussions. Address situations before they escalate. Don’t hesitate to act in real time. For instance, if you overhear a conversation where someone is pushing their political beliefs on a colleague or making an racist or sexist joke, immediately let the offending worker that such behavior will not be tolerated.
- Teach your managers to recognize and deal with discrimination and harassment. Encourage them to seek help or guidance if they encounter a situation they’re not comfortable handling.
- Take regular opportunities to remind people about policies. Conduct periodic team-building exercises. Focus on activities that enable people to work together toward a common goal.
It can be challenging to keep politics out of the workplace. In one recent survey, 83% workers said they talk about politics at work. However, in the same survey, 81% of respondents said they are having difficulty working with co-workers due to political differences; and 87% of workers report feeling bullied by co-workers over politics.
In the end, the key is to create and maintain a culture where mutual respect and common goals and values are emphasized and there is zero tolerance for bullying, badgering, or other forms of disrespect.