2020 has been a year of tremendous change for many reasons. One, it has ignited a race amongst companies (and even countries) to find a vaccine for COVID-19. Two, it’s been the year of the US elections and political change across the globe. Clearly, a lot to discuss when catching up with colleagues!

Socio-political opinions are informative, sensitive, and embroiling. Understandably, political views and values constitute a large part of who we are and, as such, are hard to omit at the workplace. In fact, a recent Gartner study showed that nearly half of employees in the US reported being distracted by the recent US presidential election to a point where it impacted their productivity.

While opinions are divided on whether it is recommended to publicize one’s political leanings at the workplace, here are some things for employees and managers to consider:

For employees

  • Know the difference between friendly banter and heated debates. Engaging in political discourse is fine, as long as it is friendly. Try to avoid confrontational debates and instead keep the conversation light and open. (For instance, asking for someone’s opinion on a political issue should not be a way to impose our views on them.) It also helps to keep emotion and judgement at bay.
  • Pick your battles. Topics like religion, death penalty, abortion, etc., are extremely polarizing and are unsuitable for discussion at the workplace. Many believe that emphatically debating on such topics may convert another to their point of view, which is rarely the case. Every individual chooses sides based on their unique life experience. This is not wont to change after a 15-minute chat during a coffee break.

For managers

Every manager wants his team to be cohesive and respectful. And while there is joy in finding peers to share political opinions with, in the long run, discussing politics at work can be divisive. For instance, it can be an unpleasant experience for a client, prospect, and potential new team member whose views are different from the majority of the team. More disturbingly, a UK study found that 10% of employers have actually tried to influence their employees’ political beliefs.

  • As a manager, steer clear of over-discussing your political beliefs with your team members. Some employees may feel discriminated if their views are opposed to yours, exposing you to needless legal action.
  • Set expectations with your team members on what behavior is acceptable and what is not.
  • In case arguments arise, proceed with firmness. Address inappropriate comments (if any) and re-iterate the rules for engagement within your team. Remember, professionalism at the workplace must go hand in hand with organizational values.

Regulating political discussions at work is not about controlling anyone’s thoughts, only their actions at the office.

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