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Keeping the Peace: Remaining Professional in a Political World

In a good working relationship, co-workers become comfortable with each other and start to share their lives. We learn things like who’s married, who’s on a diet, who prefers dogs to cats. Usually, this is a good thing. Sharing is a sign that your employees are working well together, but some subjects are just too controversial. Well, one subject in particular – politics.

Keeping Politics out of the Workplace

Politics seem to be everywhere today, but when politics come up at the workplace, they can be especially toxic, and often disrupt team dynamics, and may even damage professional reputations.

Of course, you can’t tell people what to think, but you can tell people how to act. Or, more precisely, you can set a standard for employee conduct while at work, one that can keep your employees focused on business rather than controversies.

Can you ban political discussions at work?

Banning politics as a topic for discussion in the workplace is largely legal, although there are some exceptions. Federal law protects the rights of employees to discuss work-related issues like discrimination, FMLA, and safety. Many states have enacted laws to prevent employers from discriminating against employees based on politics. So, barring this, you can ban political discussions at work. But should you?

In general, telling employees what they can and can’t talk about will be poorly received. However, you can prevent employees from harassing one another over politics, you can stop any arguments that are disruptive to the workplace, and you can disallow any items that make a political statement, like water bottles with a candidate’s name on them or t-shirts with an overtly political slogan.

Add political discussions to your social media policy

Remind your employees that when they identify themselves as employees while online, they’re representing the company. In other words, anything they post online or share as an employee can quickly stop being the opinion of an individual and start being the unofficial position of your company, whether it was intended that way or not. Make your employees aware of this fact before you have any PR headaches and ask that they keep their personal opinions just that – personal.

Remind employees frequently about the importance of respect

If there’s an election coming up, a controversial court case, or any other news-making event, take a moment to remind your team about the importance of respect. They’ll be working with their co-workers after the dust settles from whatever issue is currently upsetting people. It’s a lot easier to work together if you remain professional no matter what’s happening in the political world. This should also be kept in mind when sports or any other issue people are passionate about come up.

Defuse conflict

It’s always important to keep your eyes and ears open when you’re around co-workers. If you notice a coworker getting upset during a discussion, take a moment to change the subject and give everyone a chance to cool off. Try talking about a movie that’s coming out soon, or a positive event, like a co-worker who has a birthday coming up. You could always complain about traffic or the weather. You can gently remind everyone that they’re at work and should focus on the company. If necessary, remind everyone that it’s okay to agree to disagree.

It can be easy to say the wrong thing at the best of times, and it’s even easier when the people around you have deeply held opinions. Make sure that management sets the tone for employees by remaining professional, pleasant, and focused, despite whatever upheaval is happening in the world.

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