A survey conducted on how political conversations affect the workplace found that 42% of Americans have engaged in political disagreements at the office while 44% have, at the very least, witnessed it. Around 1 in 10 Americans have experienced differential treatment based on their political affiliation.

While the tendency to engage in political debate spikes during election campaigns, our political views are often hard-wired into our principles and, hence, hard to isolate from our professional roles at the workplace.  In a previous blog post, we discussed how employees and managers can take steps to regulate their speech at work. But individual efforts must be underpinned by strong company policy and guidance. Debates and conversation are healthy attributes in any workspace, but, when unregulated, they can backfire, causing dissent and reputational damage as it did at Google. 

Education before discipline

Google had an open approach towards employee communication, until internal political conversations got leaked. It sparked heated debates among employees, drew public criticism, and increased political scrutiny. The protests prompted the senior leadership to revisit their communication guidelines and highlight the need for ‘responsible’ behavior in an effort to avoid unnecessary polarization. Here’s what we can learn from Google’s guidelines about regulating internal debate, especially political talk, at the workplace.

  1. Emphasize organizational values. When communicating at the workplace, employees must keep in mind the values that the organization follows. Google emphasizes on being helpful, thoughtful, and responsible.
  2. Every employee must contribute to keeping the organization safe and productive. All staff members have the right to express themselves freely but when doing so disrupts the peace and productivity of the organization, it is no longer considered acceptable. Google advises its employees to avoid unnecessary debates which disrupt daily workflows.
  3. Avoid actions that make the company non-inclusive. Actions such as name-calling, harassment, and workplace bullying can cause employee stress. Google underscores inclusivity for every employee in the company and, therefore, condemns acts of exclusion or harassment within the organization.
  4. Be responsible with words. All employees are free to raise concerns and participate in internal debates. However, because of recent circumstances, Google stresses that respectful words must be used, no matter one’s political moorings. Google states that employees must be responsible with their words and not spark violence or hatred through them.
  5. Treat data with care. Work details are strictly confidential and must not leave the workplace. Google urges its employees to strictly adhere to this clause in the employee guidelines.

Organizational policy, while encouraging honest conversations, must support the efforts of managers and employees as they seek to build a unifying, open, and respectful work environment. This is where Google, learning from its recent unrest, provides an example of how to keep political divisiveness from weakening its organizational culture.

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