There are just some things you shouldn’t talk about at the office—sex, money, religion and of course politics. But as we all know, these taboo topics often make up the most interesting water cooler chatter. And as the 2012 Presidential Election heats up, so do your politically passionate employees.
Conversations turn from, “did you see what Kim Kardashian was wearing at that after party” to “did you see what that candidate was wearing at the debate? His tie totally didn’t match his pin-striped suit.” (Okay, maybe a little less shallow than that, but you get my point).
After a while, it can be hard to ignore the elephant (or maybe the donkey) in the room. So what do you do? Ban political banter?
As a supervisor, manager or CEO, the last thing you want is an all out brawl (verbal or physical) amongst your employees. But you can’t post a sign up that says, “NO POLITICS IN THIS OFFICE!” because that violates a little thing called The First Amendment.
Even if you did post that sign, people would still talk. Employees love to talk to each other about anything and everything. They talk about frustrating clients, crying babies, broken staplers, hot dates, cold weather…etc etc. So why wouldn’t employees talk about the hard hitting issues as well, such as taxes, health insurance, same-sex marriage, education and abortion?
After all, that is what the candidates are talking about. It’s all we hear about these days! And while some people thrive off discussing politics (example: We all have that friend who was a Political Science major and thinks getting into heated political discussions is more fun than half-priced drinks during happy hour), other people would rather discuss the results of their mole removal than the upcoming election. It’s all about personal preference.
Inevitably, you are going to have a mixture of these people in your office. You’ll have the people that run to their neighbor’s cubical to start the conversation and then you’ll have the person who runs into her office and locks the door just to stay out of it.
That is why you have to be careful. When it comes to politics, emotions are high. And everyone usually has different opinions about each hot topic leading to a major disagreement and even a hostile work place.
Even though you may think, this is America, freedom of speech, I can say what I want etc. etc., remember that just because we have the right to do something doesn’t mean we should exploit that right.
While discussions with people who hold different views can help broaden our own views, the office break room is not the place for it.
Yes, maybe you and your colleagues are able to have civil, respectful conversations at work about politics, religion, sex, money and Kim Kardashian. But you are in the minority. Most people are incapable of agreeing to disagree.
After your heated political discussion, your supervisor might carry that grudge all the way to your performance evaluation. (As HR professionals, we’d like to point out that this is completely unethical and political views should not play a role in performance evaluations).
Simply put, we shouldn’t discuss politics in the workplace because, with very few exceptions, these discussions have nothing to do with our job and can only interfere with it.
So make this known to your employees. At the next team meeting, tell everyone that you are very aware that politics is a hot topic right now, but ask them to be careful about what they say to their fellow colleagues. Let them know you are not banning political chitchat, but you want them to be conscious of the fact that everyone holds different views.
Let it be known that as their manager, supervisor or CEO, you will not let their personal political views affect your views of their job performance. You can stress that talking politics, just like any other topic of conversation including what little Johnny did to your new sofa or what your big plans are for this weekend, should not interfere with job productivity.
This is simply a matter of diversity. The company supports diversity; therefore any discussions that make people feel left out, disadvantaged or discriminated against will not be tolerated. (To learn more about diversity training, click here).
End the meeting by gathering in a friendship circle, holding hands and singing Kumbaya. (This is optional, but we highly recommend it).
With all that said, who are you going to vote for? I kid, I kid. Now, stop reading this and get back to work!