With all of the hype in the media on Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, climate change, and political unrest around the world, I am so tempted to talk politics at work in the lunchroom with my colleagues and managers. I’ve been warned politics are a taboo topic for the workplace. What do you think?
Signed: Talking Politics (TP)
There are many perspectives on this issue: to discuss or not to discuss?
Susan Milligan from The Society for Human Resource Management warns employers about finding that delicate balance: on one hand, it is wrong to ban political discussions at the workplace, but one the other hand, free speech can easily turn into bullying; sometimes these conversations can even turn into one party feeling harassed. Milligan stresses that employers have a responsibility to make sure all staff feel comfortable in the workplace. Milligan cites a CareerBuilder poll conducted during the 2012 mid-term elections found that 42 percent of respondents said they avoided talking about politics at work. Another 44 percent said they talked about it, but shut down the conversation when it got heated, and 14 percent said they engaged in lively political debates at work.
Here are some ideas to consider before deciding when and to whom to talk politics at work:
1. Know the company policy: check out your company policy regarding this topic; find out if there are any policies about what you post on social media.
2. Company and workplace culture: be very sensitive to the personalities and differences of your co-workers, your managers and the entire company culture. If you are working in a quiet environment, I would suggest that if you express yourself loudly, you could be seen as a fanatic and in a negative way by your coworkers, managers and company in general. If you are working in an organization that supports your political views, then go for it. But in the wrong environment, you could damage your career if you are too loud with your opinions. Some managers might not hire or give promotions to employees whose political views differ from their own. I would also be careful what you post on your social media sites especially Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
3. Remember your customers/company public relations: your customers/clients could be “put off if an employee espouses a strong political view.” Be mindful of the audience. Listen more than you talk, in general, and especially with the customers. You could upset a person easily. I would never talk politics to a customer or client. I can safely say that this is a taboo subject. Keep to the business and professional relationships with your clients/customers. After all, they are supporting your paycheque.
4. Communicate face-to-face (“in-person interaction” states Milligan) rather than by email with staff on political issues. Often the tone and content of an email can be misinterpreted. Talk politics directly to the person. Personally, I would only share my opinions with good friends whom I trust.
5. Keep political battles out of the workplace. If you see that your opinions or the way you express them will turn into a negative experience, and even harassment, then change (better yet avoid) the subject.