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Keeping Politics Out of the Office

Election Day 2016 brought groups of students standing on opposing sides of the locker bank, wearing the USA’s red, white, and blue. But the solidarity stopped there. Tensions were palpable and heightened the next morning after the election results were known—some students elated; some took days off school to process the shift they perceived in their country. 

The extreme divide our country experienced since 2016 surpasses anything seen in our lifetimes. That election led some voters to simply continue with their lives while others entered a period of mourning. 

As a country again experiencing a tension-filled election season, it’s important to recognize the potentially damaging effects of “politics in the office.” The workplace, while an easy place for discussions to occur, is on the list where politics should not enter. 

Working Americans spend a large portion of their day in the workplace, and if that environment is negative, their stress levels are likely to rise.

Every person has unique beliefs and values surrounding political issues. Differing beliefs can lead to conflict in discussions, especially during a heated election season. According to a 2019 Society for Human Resource Management study, “42% of working Americans have personally experienced political disagreements in the workplace.” While disputes over political issues are taking place, company culture is taking the fall. Conflict amongst team members can lead to isolation, disagreements between colleagues and ineffective teams. 

Cohesive teamwork is difficult if the individuals feel polarized. When team culture suffers, the quality of work produced follows suit. Working Americans spend a large portion of their day in the workplace, and if that environment is negative, their stress levels are likely to rise. Organizations will find their employees unhappy with the company culture and job satisfaction. 

Having clear policies that state expectations regarding politics in the workplace can help combat conflicting discussions from occurring. Now is the time to remind employees that your workplace environment is not the place to ignite political conversations. Leaders can help raise awareness that such conversations can create and how that impacts employee well-being. Managers might need help being prepared to offer resources and support to employees in need. Leaders can be cautious of their own behavior to demonstrate desired behavior in response to politics in the office. 

If you’ve worked hard to recruit and build diverse teams, odds are team members bring diverse perspectives and diverse experiences—good for projects, bad for political debates. When it comes to politics, leave judgment outside the office and bring empathy, understanding and care to interactions with colleagues. Spark conversations about what you both enjoy—sports, family, travel, books, or games.

Political conversations can be complicated and difficult but creating a harmonious and positive work environment is not. Having clear guidelines for handling politics in the office will encourage working together as a team in a healthy culture as opposed to a workplace of isolation and conflict. 

SHRM Study 

Published on: October 19, 2020