Shop Talk and Politics

Employees are increasingly talking about politics in the workplace, and many conversations are leading to conflict, according to a recent SHRM survey, Politics in the Workplace. Distressingly, the survey finds that many employees quit jobs due to toxic workplace cultures, partly driven by political disagreements that grow intolerable. Political conflicts in the workplace may involve legal concerns, as described in this article.

Employers may wish to take action to prevent contentious political conversations from negatively impact the workplace.

One strategy is to proactively address this as part of a larger effort to enhance workplace civility and foster a culture that respects and effectively manages the expression of diverse perspectives. These action steps may help:

  • Hire Right: When interviewing, include questions about civil behaviors, listen attentively to responses, and look for specific examples. When reference checking, ask pointed questions and listen carefully.
  • Define Expectations: During the onboarding process, discuss expectations around conduct with each new employee.
  • Model Civil Behavior: Leadership and managers must set the tone and consistently model desired civil behaviors. A bold move may be facilitating open roundtable discussions to explore how to navigate conflicting political perspectives in the workplace.
  • Acknowledge: Ignoring the elephant in the room is a mistake. Pro-actively acknowledge the reality that diverse political beliefs exist among employees, and communicate the need to treat each other respectfully and not let political differences negatively impact work.
  • Train: Don’t assume generic phrases such as “Respectful and Professional Behavior” are equally defined by all employees. Identify opportunities to provide examples of acceptable behaviors and the importance of one’s choice of words, as described in this article.
  • Monitor and observe: Actively listen for casual conversations and water cooler chat that grows heated or may be considered offensive. Monitor internal communication tools (Slack, intranet sites, bulletin boards, etc.). Observe staff interactions that appear out of the norm; ask questions of staff who seem distressed or agitated. Look for clues in Exit interviews and turnover trends.
  • Consequences: Draft policies with consequences for uncivil behavior and hold offenders at all levels accountable.

For assistance with workplace conflicts involving politics or other issues, contact Employers Council.