Politics is one subject where, now more than ever, everyone has an opinion, and those opinions are often polarizing. Sharing political thoughts in the workplace can be dangerous for employees, as it can foster a toxic environment, create uncomfortable dynamics, and can even lead to firings. This has caused several companies to rethink policies on political speech in the workplace.
But is it worth it for companies to implement a political discussion policy in their workplace?
According to a recent survey published by Clutch, a B2B research, ratings, and reviews firm in Washington, D.C., 41% of companies have a policy that outlines or regulates political expression in the workplace, but only 27% of employees think their companies should have a political expression policy.
Implementing policies that can censor employees tends to be unpopular. If you think about it, however, the positives of adding a policy outweigh the negatives.
You’ve probably heard the old maxim that one should never discuss politics or religion at the dinner table. That has some strong basis. When’s the last time that a person has ever convinced someone else to change their mind about a policy or politician over a steak dinner?
The same idea translates at work. In five minutes at the watercooler, an employee will not convince others that a certain viewpoint is right. Best-case scenario, everyone agrees. At worst, things become uncomfortable or hostile — affecting company culture.
A 2017 survey by the American Psychological Association found that after the 2016 presidential election, 26% of full-time employees felt tense because of political discussions taking place in the office and an additional 21% experienced having a negative and cynical attitude. With how the 2020 election is already taking shape, we should expect the same trend to continue.
Office politics = hostile office
As we enter into another political season of unrest, another positive for organizations to introduce political discussion policies is that it provides a clear road map towards diminishing a hostile workplace.
In the same survey published by Clutch, 8% of employees agree that they’ve felt singled out or discriminated against because of their political views at work in the past year. What’s more alarming is that only 4% of employees say that they’ve considered approaching management about political discussions taking place at work in the last year.
While not all employees will bring up situations to management, we can infer that a good deal may not trust management to address political expression. That’s not good for business. If employees do not have trust in their leaders, they will look to other avenues for work.
Another reason to avoid discussing politics at work is that when discussions go bad, they go bad quickly.
This doesn’t just translate to just lower-level employees. It also translates into organizational leadership. If a CEO or other members of leadership shares their views publically among others, it has the potential to alienate their workers – especially if their identity is tied to their work.
“People judge people based off where they work,” said Laura Friedman, director of communications at Workforce Opportunity Services. “I don’t think people want to be attached to the views of the company’s leaders.”
To avoid a political crisis in the workplace — big or small — the obvious step is to enact a political discussion policy.
Creating a policy on political speech at work is easier said than done. Companies looking to implement a policy will see better success if they take these steps:
- Create an easy-to-understand plan that everyone will understand. It’s a lot harder to follow a policy if there are grey areas or if the wording is confusing.
- Communicate the policy by using a variety of communication tactics. Most likely, one email will not cut it. Use other avenues like town halls and flyers to help communicate the message.
- Lead by example. Employees are less likely to follow a policy if they see others getting away with it (no matter the rank) without a specific effect laid out in the policy.
Creating a political discussion policy at the policy may seem daunting. But, at the end of the day, companies should establish a political expression policy to foster a safe environment for employees, and avoid a hostile workplace.
Now that’s good for business.