Should open debate be encouraged or off-limits when it comes to divisive topics like politics at work?
Ultimately this is the decision of each company, but employers should ensure they take a balanced approach.
This could include setting policies that manage expected behaviours, providing a safe space for open dialogue at work, or stepping in should contentious topics of conversation get out of hand and negatively impact your workforce’s ability to work successfully together.
Read on for some key considerations regarding how to handle political activity in the workplace.
What Is Considered Political Activity At Work?
Political activity in the workplace is anything related to politics that takes place during working hours or on company property.
This includes discussing topics such as current political news, voicing opinions about candidates or policies, and engaging in any type of activism.
It is important to recognise that freedom of expression and discussion of political topics can serve to foster an atmosphere of debate, collaboration, and innovation, but you must also ensure the safety and well-being of employees in the workplace by avoiding activities that could lead to disruption or conflict.
With mainstream TV shows like ‘I’m a Celebrity’ featuring a sitting MP in 2022, you can see how easy it is for the lines of popular culture and politics to blur during conversations at work.
This means that what started as a harmless conversation about what you watched on television last night, or the news of the day, can quickly escalate into heated arguments between people with very different political opinions.
Political conversations in the workplace can be complex, but your overriding responsibility as an employer is to create a safe and productive environment for all employees.
As such, you should ensure that any political activity at work is in line with the company’s culture and values, whilst being mindful of your employees’ rights to freedom of expression and assembly, particularly when it comes to workplace discussions about politics.
Steps You Can Take As An Employer
- Employers can create and maintain clear guidelines and policies that outline acceptable workplace behaviour. In addition to specifying the types of activities that are prohibited, these policies should also include guidelines for how employees can politely discuss politics during work hours without dictating what can and can’t be said.
- If an employee brings up a political topic in the workplace, employers should be ready to step in and remind them of the rules you have in place.
- Consider setting up a system where employees can confidentially report any potential incidents of harassment or discrimination related to political activities in the workplace.
- Employees can feel overwhelmed or anxious due to the political climate, so employers can support this by creating a safe space where employees can share their feelings and get support from colleagues. This can help to create an environment of understanding and tolerance.
- Employers need to be aware of applicable laws such as discrimination and harassment when it comes to workplace political activity and take appropriate measures to ensure that the rights of all employees are respected and upheld.
- Employers should monitor the environment in their workplaces and intervene if it appears that any employee is being harassed, threatened, or intimidated because of their political beliefs.
- You must understand the employment status of everyone that you hire, be it as an employee, self-employed person or an agency worker, each type of working relationship is governed by a different set of rights and responsibilities which could impact people’s responses to your policies or your ability to act on behaviour surrounding political topics.
- Employers should also ensure that their policies do not have a chilling effect on the ability of employees to engage in lawful activities outside of the workplace. For instance, employers should not impose restrictions on an employee’s right to participate in political activities during non-working hours.
- Consider offering professional development or training sessions on topics such as diversity and inclusion to promote a more inclusive workplace culture regardless of political viewpoints.
- All employees should understand that any violation of company policies will be dealt with swiftly and fairly, regardless of whether it’s related to politics or not. Additionally, employers must also ensure that they are not discriminating against any employees based on their political views or activities.
Pros And Cons Of Political Discussion In The Workplace
When a polarised political climate exists, it may be tempting to consider banning employees from discussing politics, but aside from dampening their freedom of speech, there are also plenty of good reasons to allow open political discussion in the workplace.
Pros of open political discussion at work
- It can help to foster a more diverse and inclusive environment. When employees feel like they can openly discuss their political beliefs, backgrounds and opinions, they are more likely to feel respected and valued by their colleagues and superiors.
- It can encourage open, diverse dialogue and collaboration and foster an atmosphere of acceptance and respect for different viewpoints to create a more inclusive environment and foster a more tolerant and respectful workplace.
- It can encourage critical thinking and lead to more productive debates. Open political discussion can help to create a more informed and engaged workforce. When employees can freely exchange ideas and information about current events, they are better equipped to make informed decisions about the issues that affect their work
- Open political discussion can help to build strong working relationships. When employees feel like they can openly discuss their differences, they are more likely to trust and respect one another.
Downsides of open political discussion in the workplace
Today’s highly charged political climate can be a minefield of potential conflict, especially when employees may have strong feelings about wider issues that then bubble over into making even routine work tasks a source of contention at work.
- office conversations about controversial subjects can quickly escalate into heated arguments, which can lead to lowered morale, ongoing conflicts and decreased productivity
- differing opinions that lead to arguments can lead to potential claims of discrimination or harassment which you will need to manage sensitively.
- Employees may feel that they need to censor their views to prevent offending others. This can lead to feelings of anxiety at not feeling comfortable in being themselves.
As you can see, there is plenty to be aware of when it comes to political discussions in the workplace.
Regardless of your personal views and opinions, as an employer, your role is to ensure the safety and well-being of your workforce. As such, you need to be aware of the potential for conflict surrounding political conversations, and be prepared to intervene if arguments or behaviours start to get out of hand.
If done correctly, promoting a culture of openness and dialogue can help create a more understanding and cohesive workplace, where employees feel valued and supported regardless of their political views and actions. By setting clear guidelines and providing resources to help employees stay informed, employers can ensure that any political activity in the workplace is respectful, productive, and professional.
If you would like support with managing and understanding your HR and employer responsibilities towards your workforce, please contact us.