Thursday, October 1, 2020

7 tips to manage political discussions at work

Did you watch the Presidential Debate Tuesday night? Do you think it showcased the best of America? If you do, I think you were tuned to the wrong channel. In fact, I'd argue that it was the low point of American presidential campaign history, if not all of Amerian presidential history.

Our country is broken. We are more divided than we have been in 155 years. This division also exists among your employees. Approximately half will be Red/Republican/Trump and the other approximate half will be Blue/Democrat/Biden. Given our 24/7 news cycles, social media, and the overall unavoidability of this election, these issues will bleed into discussions among your employees at work, and outside of work on social media and otherwise. 

While I believe that employees shouldn't discuss these issues at work, it's simply not realistic to ask or expect your employees not to discuss politics five weeks away from the most consequential election of our lives. 

It's one thing to encourage the debate, it's another not to discourage it. The reality is that these discussions will happen among coworkers, just as they happen among families and friends. Nothing you say or do will stop them from occurring. Thus, instead of trying to stop them, employers should be promoting ground rules that hold employees accountable for their behavior, focused around one key theme—civility. Political discussions are okay, as long as they are civil discussions. No one will yell, no one will talk over anyone else, no one will disparage anyone else, and we respect all people and all lawful (i.e., not racist, sexist, xenophobic, etc.) ideas.

So how do we promote this civil discourse around an issue that can (and has) brought out the worst in people?

  • Remind employees of your expectation through general (and non-political) civility or respectful-workplace training.

  • Establish a clear differentiation between political opinions (tolerated) and unlawful harassment or other more generalized bullying (not tolerated).

  • Do not have an organizational position towards one candidate or another. If the CEO or a manager is actively and vocally pro-Trump, employees with a differing view likely will feel marginalized and unwilling to offer a contrary opinion.

  • Consider keeping workplace televisions (such as in the lunchroom) tuned to something other than a news channel.

  • Limit political displays in the workplace (i.e., buttons, shirts, banners, signs, etc.). But, if you allow for one, you must allow for all.

  • Keep an eye on your state's laws, which may prohibit an employer from discriminating or retaliating against employees for political activities, political opinions, or political speech.

  • Also keep an eye on the National Labor Relations Act, which will protect political speech if it relates to terms and conditions of employment (i.e., wages, paid family leave, discrimination, safety, etc.).

I have no idea what heals our country and brings us back together. I know that it won't be this election. I used to think it was a 9/11-size catastrophe. We're living that tragedy right now, and Covid has only made the divide wider and more visible. Whatever will heal us, I have to think that civility plays a large role in it. Let's see if we can start down that path at work.

* Image by StockSnap from Pixabay