Talking Politics At Work – Is It Bringing Down Workplace Morale?

talking politics at workAre your employees spending too much time talking politics at work? From conversations we’ve had with many clients, it’s unavoidable these days. From the daily drama coming from Donald Trump, to the trials and tribulations of the recent BC election and the uncertainty of who would form government, to your likes or dislikes of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, we are inundated with very high profile political issues.

If your workplace is like those of many of our clients, this political talk is having a negative impact on employee productivity and, in some cases, on the general well-being of employees. What was once a taboo topic at work, politics is no longer unmentionable. Employees are openly sharing their views about the Liberals vs. the NDP vs. the Greens, Republicans vs. Democrats, Brexit, President Trump, the government’s stance on refugees, and the list goes on.

Whether venting their frustrations or cheering the latest political manoeuvres, employees are often discussing their political stripes and affiliations in the workplace. While your ability to freely choose your political affiliation is one of the tenets of our democratic society, discussing this at work may be causing harm.

Some common themes we have heard:

  • Productivity is dropping

Employees are glued to mainstream and/or social media to get the latest political developments, or they are debating their differing perspectives at work. As a result, productivity and effectiveness are declining. Having healthy debate is healthy. If it crosses a line, however, and starts getting personal, insulting or abusive, you need to stop the behaviour.

  • Friendships are being affected

Once people start sharing their own political views at work, it is bound to create distrust and resentment if you find out your co-worker, and possibly friend, sees the world completely differently than you. Whether you are of Mexican heritage and find out that your colleague is a Trump supporter, or you are on opposite sides of the Brexit debate, discussing your political views exposes your personal values and beliefs to critique. When such beliefs are at odds with those you work next to every day, work relationships and friendships can be negatively impacted.

  • Employees are disillusioned

It’s normal to be disappointed if an election doesn’t go the way you had hoped. For some reason, however, the political issues of the past year have had a far greater impact on employees than expected. Employees are weighed down with big questions about the future, what will the world be like for their kids, what can they do to make a bigger difference so that these election results won’t repeat themselves during the next election. For some people this may mean more mental health days, for others this could mean making a job change or entering politics themselves.

If you’re feeling the effects of too much talking politics at work, here are some suggestions:

1. Have a politics fast at work

It is very difficult to tell people what they can or can’t talk about at work. However, a one-off, time-limited politics fast or blackout is possible and may get people to break the cycle. Tell employees that you are noticing that there’s been a lot of political talk at work and it’s getting people down. Pick a day and tell employees that they will be challenged to not talk about politics at work, unless it’s a requirement of their job – don’t read the newspaper, don’t follow the political talk trending on social media, and don’t discuss the latest election results.

2. Hold a community giving day

If employees are so dissatisfied with the latest political outcomes, have them put their energy to a positive use and give them a reality check at the same time. Pick a cause that all employees can rally behind and do something together to support that cause. Volunteer together for local charity, spend a day coming up with ways to raise money for a good cause, participate in a charity walk/run together. Show that each person can make a difference regardless of how helpless or hopeless you may feel.

3. Have it out

If you think it’s time to do something about all the negative political talk at work but don’t know what to do, ask your staff and see what they say. Hold a staff meeting and include as one of the agenda topics your concerns around the impact talking politics is having on the workplace. Ask how employees think it should be handled or addressed. They may come up with some really great, creative ideas to help boost morale and productivity again.

With media and social media as they are today, we can’t help but be inundated with political news every time we go online or turn on the TV. It is difficult to avoid talking politics at work altogether. However, if it’s negatively impacting your business on an on-going basis, you need to take steps to ensure that employees can continue to be respectful, productive and effective.

Drop us a line if you have any suggestions on what employers can do to make talking politics at work less of an issue.

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