Particularly since the presidential election that took place nearly two years ago, political views and opinions have become increasingly strong. With mid-term elections looming, differences of opinions on candidates and measures is bound to spill over into the workplace, creating distractions and potentially hurt feelings. As managers and HR professionals, how do you manage political banter at work, ideally before productivity is affected and discussions need to be halted?

It is unreasonable to assume that there will be no chatter of politics at work, since the majority of our time is spent at work during the work week, and typically with the same people with whom we’ve become comfortable working and conversing with for years. And since politics can also play a significant role in both personal and professional parts of life, it can become natural “water cooler” conversation for some employees. However, while a healthy debate about politics is necessary to work through our own beliefs and come up with new concepts for the betterment of all, in the workplace they can lead to a major distraction from work.  This distraction can be anything from employees no longer talking to each other to taking time away from actual production.

It’s best to keep political conversations in the workplace to a minimum. If, however, despite your best efforts, a discussion becomes heated and gets out of hand, try to help employees find a common ground by validating each employee’s right to their opinion, acknowledging their differences, then reminding them to leave it at that. Do not “side” with either employee. Simply encourage that it’s okay for them to “agree to disagree,” and that it’s best to not discuss politics anymore.

Ultimately, the workplace is a place for work. Politically-charged conversations, while not illegal in the workplace, are best left for after-hours discussion. More times than not, they can lead to disagreements which can offend others, possibly ruin relationships, and lower workplace morale and productivity. It’s important to exercise one’s freedom of opinion, but best to treat political discussions with respect, or, whenever possible, to avoid these discussions altogether.

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