As a manager, it can be difficult to navigate conversations about politics at work, especially in today’s polarizing climate. These topics are often on the front of peoples’ minds outside the office, so it’s not surprising that they can come up as co-workers interact through their day to day. There is no hard line of where these conversations should start or end—in fact, that line can get rather blurred.
On one hand, it’s important to create a respectful and inclusive work environment for all employees. On the other hand, it’s natural for people to have different political beliefs, and it’s not always possible to completely avoid discussing politics in the workplace.
Insight Global recently found in a survey that employees overwhelmingly (85%) prefer not to discuss politics at work, with many (74%) citing that they fear talking politics would increase tensions. And according to Gallup, American workers are split right about 50-50 if their companies should be taking political stances at all.
So how do managers navigate these challenges?
Insight Global CEO Bert Bean has advised that management can offer “clear, deliberate leadership that sets the tone for the entire organization.” So, let’s go over ways managers can handle conversations about politics at work to do just that.
Set Boundaries and Tone
As Bean said, it’s important to establish clear boundaries around what is and is not appropriate to discuss at work. This may mean setting guidelines around the types of political conversations that are allowed in your employee handbook. You can’t control what employees talk about on their own time—nor should you. But in professional group settings, you can set boundaries about topics that are appropriate, and how employees can discuss those topics. That leads to…
Encourage Respectful, Professional Communication
Conversations about politics are bound to come up—just what you did over the weekend or upcoming vacations. Our survey found that around half of Gen Z and Millennial employees are “inclined” to talk about politics at work. So, when they do, managers can encourage employees to listen to each other and respect different viewpoints. Remind them to avoid personal attacks, and if they don’t feel comfortable about what is being said, they can say so and choose to remove themselves from the conversation.
If inappropriate comments occur, employees should feel comfortable calling them out as such and partner with their manager on how to handle those situations in the future. If unprofessional, disrespectful conversations continue, human resources should be involved to support employees and restate the company’s expectations.
Model Good Behavior
As a manager, you can lead by example. If you engage in respectful, professional communication around all topics—including politics—your employees are likely to follow suit. If a conversation comes up out of nowhere, you can model how to pivot back to focus on work or how to express that it’s not an appropriate time to talk about something like that.
It’s also up to managers to remind employees of a company’s shared values and purpose. Teams at work shouldn’t feel they are being led by a single person’s ideology or beliefs but rather by the company’s mission and principles.
Give Feedback if Needed
If you need to give feedback or correct an employee’s behavior, make them aware of what your concern is and how the employee can correct it. In some cases, it may be better to have this conversation privately rather than call anyone out publicly in front of their peers.
Perhaps another employee expressed a concern, but you can leave their name out of it. You can come to the person who spoke inappropriately or in violation of your policies as a leader and either set expectations or remind them of what the expectations are when it comes to certain behaviors at work. This conversation should be like any other you would have when offering feedback.
Recognize That It’s Okay to Disagree
It’s important to remember that it’s okay to disagree, even when it comes to political beliefs. If employees continue to talk about these subjects, encourage them to express their viewpoints in a respectful way and to remember that it’s possible to disagree without being harsh, condescending, or unkind.
Foster a Culture of Inclusivity
Building a culture where all employees feel valued and included, regardless of their political beliefs, is vital. This could involve implementing diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, offering cultural competency training, and creating a safe space for employees to share their thoughts and feelings. Through any initiative, encourage a sense of connection and camaraderie—and what they have in common— among team members.
Employee resource groups are also great ways to encourage advocacy for groups within an organization.
Navigating conversations about politics at work can be challenging, but it’s possible to do so in a respectful and professional manner. The primary goal—with any interactions among team members—is to create a positive and inclusive work environment where employees feel comfortable being themselves.