The US presidential election will soon come to a close in November and what a showdown it will be between the Democrats and the Republicans. This election is probably the most talked-about election in the recent time and will continue to be a hot topic long after the election as well.

While it is good for your co-workers to stay abreast about what is happening in the country, what should be the course of action when political discussions tend to creep into your workplace and ignite passionate minds?

Political Chatter in the Workplace

When it comes to politics, everyone has their own opinion. Sometimes, opinions get flared up by emotions and some of your co-workers might get too riled up during such a conversation at the workplace. As an employer or an HR manager, a practical perspective is tough to enforce during such situations, but it won’t hurt to try keeping such talks out of the workplace.

Since such opinions come under free speech, employers can’t do much. However, to make other workers feel safer at the workplace, steps need to be ensured to separate free speech from bullying and name-calling. To strike a balance, there are various steps that can be taken that can keep in check the kind of political chatter that happens at your workplace. 

First of all, you need to understand that banning political chatter is not the right way to go just because it might seem objectionable. Secondly, by being cautious, you do not restrict free speech according to the ethics of the NLRB (National Labor Relations Board).

When Matters Get Out of Hand

Since the penetration of social media and cable news has reached into the mobile phones of such workers, keeping controversial matters from spilling into the workplace is a matter of concern. Many workers tend to intertwine their work and personal lives at the workplace by accessing Facebook or Twitter in the office hours or talking about politics during water cooler breaks. This shows that no matter how hard you try, politics is still on everyone’s lips.

Many-a-times, harmless conversations tend to turn into heated conversations where some co-workers feel that it is their political duty to defend their choice of candidate at all costs without applying logic or listening to the other person’s argument. This is where a conversation turns into deadly harassment and often into workplace violence.

Research by CareerBuilder suggests that 42% of people surveyed admitted that they tried their best not to discuss politics at work during the 2012 mid-term elections. The other 44% admitted that they tried to kill the conversation before it got worse. The remaining 14% accepted engaging in ‘lively’ political chatter regularly at work during the entire election process. This shows that most people try to avoid it, but mishaps do happen. Such chatter that goes out of hand can land the employee and the employer both in hot soup!

How to Deal With the Situation?

In most cases, managers and HR tend to get biased against workers who differed in political views with them. Not only does this give rise to a toxic employee, but also opens up the path to future workplace violence.

Here are some steps, we feel that can help you handle such situations better at the workplace:

  1. Set the ground rules: Top-ranking managers need to set the tone in such conversations and also agree to mutually respect each other’s views without any hostility, back-biting or future feuds.
  2. Uniform Civil Code: Even before such conversations are initiated, it is best to conduct trainings for every worker about the anti-harassment and workplace violence policies of the workplace. That ought to keep many workers in check.
  3.  Bolster HR: All defaulting employees should be dealt with separately by the HR department and it should be made clear to them that political chatter should be kept out of the workplace.
  4.  Monitor Social Media: If particular websites tend to publish instigating write-ups about the election, it is best to block those websites to avoid unnecessary chatter in the workplace. Moreover, monitoring the social media profiles of all workers should be a good idea to gauge their political inclinations and what their actual mindset is about the election process.
  5.  Bar emails that contain political chatter: Emails are meant for work and not political chatter. Many workers find it tempting to write their opinions in emails and pass them around. This can lead to misconstrued perceptions and also lead to a misuse of the email system.
  6.  No bias at all: Just because someone does not agree with you does not mean you won’t work with them. Work like normal, however with in-person interaction you can make it clear what your views are about the matter. You can also make it clear that you don’t wish to discuss politics at the workplace.
  7. No political chatter with Customers: Monitor sales calls to ensure that customers are not engaged in political chatter in contrast to selling the company’s products or services. Not only will this make customers feel cheated, but also lead to customers leaving your service if they are opposed to the political opinion being tossed upon them.

Ultimately, tense talks give rise to an unproductive and unsafe work environment. It is best for managers and supervisors to be vigilant around the people they work with and take steps to ensure that no employee damages their career due to being too vocal.

With the steps enlisted above, you avoid going into a gridlock and ensure smooth functioning of the business.