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To Be or Not to Be Politically Correct: 5 Tips to Avoid Conflict and Controversy in the Workplace

Published on 6/9/2016 12:00:00 AM
Since employees will be talking about politics anyway, make sure you have a sound Political Activities Policy.

The upcoming 2016 presidential election is fueling heated political debates across the country — and in the office. Whether voting as a Democrat, Republican or Independent, there’s one thing we can all agree on: Political debates can become painfully uncomfortable at the workplace.

Employees should not participate in any political activity that disrupts the workplace in any way. But, at the same time, you can’t always control employee conversation and interaction. So how do you minimize the drama and maintain productivity? Consider the following tips for political peace:

Encourage a positive atmosphere when talking about politics:
Managers need to lead by example on acceptable political expression and activity. For example, you can help establish a positive environment by responding to political questions diplomatically. Share your thoughts, but present both sides of the situation so it’s clear you’re aware of different perspectives. Your employees will see that you have your own opinions, but that you respect others as well. Finally, respect every employee’s beliefs and never, ever tell someone they’re “wrong.”
Create a formal written policy:
Freedom of expression is essential — especially if you want a workplace that honors diversity and encourages creative ideas. However, having an established policy limiting political expression and activities can help prevent conflicts and even employee lawsuits. Develop a policy that outlines workplace rules (e.g., “company email may not be used to engage in political activities”) and prohibited employee activities (e.g., “you may not make political statements to customers during work hours”). Include phrasing that prohibits coercion, harassment and retaliation. And make sure every employee signs and dates the document.
Educate employees on how to handle politics at work:
The best way to prevent workplace disruptions is to educate your employees on proper behavior. Specifically, you should remind your employees to excuse themselves from any uncomfortable political discussions with coworkers, keep strong opinions to themselves and be open-minded to other viewpoints. And when in doubt how to handle a situation, always review company policy.
Give time off to go to the polls:
You should encourage employees to participate in the election process. This includes allowing them to take time off from work to vote if they’re unable to do so before or after work hours. Keep in mind that state laws vary on the reasons employees may take time off from work to vote, the amount of time they may take and whether you must pay them. And remember, it’s never okay to try to force employees to support a particular political party or candidate.
Let conversations happen:
R-E-S-P-E-C-T is important to remember when talking about politics. With everything going on right now, the election is a very difficult topic to avoid. Allow employees to express themselves, as long as it’s done respectfully. Discipline disruptions but don’t punish perspectives. There is nothing wrong with coworkers having a political discussion, but an angry debate is unacceptable.
Political Activities in the Workplace Kit
Create and communicate your company's policy on discussing politics in the workplace
Jaime Lizotte
Presented by: Jaime Lizotte,
HR Solutions Manager
Did you know? Approximately 15% of businesses have no process for tracking employee attendance. Not keeping accurate records encourages employees to work less and take unaccounted time off — simply because you permit it.