With so many emotionally charged events happening on the world stage, how can managers prevent politics from taking over in the workplace?
The last year has produced a string of political surprises, from Brexit and the resignation of half the cabinet to Theresa May being named the UK’s prime minister and the election of Donald Trump in the US. This political uncertainty has understandably resulted in some heated debates on social media and between families. However, these disagreements can also spill over into the workplace – which means that employers need to think about how to deal with potentially contentious issues being discussed between employees.
Much like the old adage that you should never discuss politics, sex or religion over dinner, many HR advisors agree that certain topics should remain off limits in the office. But given the turbulent times we live in, that’s easier said than done. With so much political uncertainty, tensions are likely to run high and people will be more likely to express strong opinions.
Not all employees would welcome this though. A recent survey of 1,000 employees conducted by Peninsula, the HR and employment law specialist, found that one in five employees are negatively affected by political talk at work and 32% of employees reported that workplace hostility has increased because of political discussions. Even if it causes no rancour, it could affect productivity levels if employees start spending more and more time discussing politics.
So what can employers do to ensure that it’s not going to cause problems? Firstly, it’s important to let employees know that just because there’s a lot going on in the news, the amount of casual political conversation that takes place in the office shouldn’t change. There’s a time and place for everything and your employees should be reminded that it’s business as usual.
Always be mindful of people’s triggers – the subjects that could set them off – and watch for them during any political conversations. The key to talking politics in the workplace is doing so without letting emotions get the better of you or passing judgement on others. You might have employees who are affected by immigration policies, for example. This type of self-awareness will help you regulate your own emotions and will help you monitor other people’s potential responses to specific topics and diffuse any tension before it arises.
As a manager, you need to remind people that standards of professionalism and common courtesy should always be maintained and that even though healthy discussion is encouraged, you won’t tolerate offensive language or behaviour. Before any disagreements over political philosophies get out of hand, encourage staff to get back to work and steer the conversation back to work-related topics. And if you feel that a discussion is about to turn sour, let the people involved know that the tone of their conversation is not appropriate for work.
In a perfect world, people would agree to disagree when it comes to politics and be able to calmly discuss political topics at work. But we're experiencing one of the most unstable political climates in recent memory and this is stirring up emotions. For business owners, the reality is that discussions need to be managed as there’s very little hope of avoiding them entirely.