Discussions about politics can feel ubiquitous. People share their political opinions on social media, announce their political leanings in public, and are comfortable discussing politics at work. But, political discussions can disrupt workplace harmony.
In fact, a Clutch survey found that nearly one-third of employees believe their company’s productivity has suffered because of political expression at work.
The survey also found that more than half of employees who were uncomfortable or distracted by political expression at work believe their company should implement a political expression policy.
Based on these findings, how your company effectively manage political expression and accommodate a diversity of opinion?
Follow these 4 steps to create an effective workplace political expression policy, promote workplace harmony, and successfully manage teams with differing political views.
- Set limits for appropriate expression
- Encourage dialogue and discourse
- Focus on positives rather than negatives
- Avoid broad, vague, or overarching policies
Step 1: Define Limits
Americans take pride in their First Amendment rights, but even robust free speech laws do not allow employees to express themselves whenever, wherever, and however they want—including at work.
Employers maintain broad discretion to regulate in-office political expression. Your business should consider exercising this discretion by creating a detailed political expression policy that outlines norms about where and when employee political expression is acceptable.
For example, consider limiting political talk with any interaction with clients or customers. Such limitations would include both physical places where you interact with clients or over any form of communication.
Companies can also confine political expression to breaks or break rooms and prohibit any politically charged clothing or accessories.
Establishing reasonable and understandable limits to political expression establishes a set of guidelines to follow and has the potential to improve employee productivity and morale.
Step 2: Moderate Debate
Given the divisiveness of politics, some workplaces have considered barring all political discussion in the workplace.
This approach, though, may be an overreaction. Employees can typically accept limitations but are extremely unlikely to enjoy complete censorship.
Instead, as a business manager, you need to encourage collaborative, non-contentious discussion of current events.
Importantly, managers should remain impartial and calm when politics is discussed. Avoid taking sides and encourage respectful discourse to demonstrate that it is normal and acceptable for coworkers to disagree about political issues on a respectful basis.
Of course, there is always the chance that a political discussion flies off-the-rails or causes considerable discomfort among employees.
In these scenarios, it’s up to business managers to take a proactive approach and either steer the discussion to friendlier grounds or make it clear a line has been crossed (this is where a detailed policy helps).
Step 3: Foster Positive Energy
Make sure political expression policies emphasize what is acceptable and encouraged at work, rather than focus on violations.
Companies risk alienating their employees and sullying their reputations if they pursue a policy defined by don’ts.
For example, make clear that non-offensive clothing and accessories celebrating a person’s nationality, certain political fundraising materials, and other reasonable behaviors are welcome in the workplace.
By providing examples of acceptable behaviors, employees may better understand and respect boundaries on political expression.
Step 4: Stay in Bounds
Your business should avoid broad, vague, and overly restrictive policies, such as banning all political discussion or forbidding employees to express political views on their private social media profiles.
Companies can, however, restrict social media usage during working hours.
As with any policy, companies committed to their employees’ goodwill should avoid political expression regulation that is difficult to define and enforce.
Use Political Expression Policies to Maintain Workplace Harmony
By establishing clear boundaries, encouraging respectful dialogue, providing positive examples, and avoiding draconian regulations, companies can institute effective political expression policies.
Companies searching for assistance drafting a policy, or addressing other HR issues, should consult HR firms.