Donald Trump wants a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country. Bernie Sanders wants to institute a single-payer health care system in the U.S. With no shortage of controversial candidates and ideas this election season, it’s tempting for political talk to seep into everyday workplace conversations.
However, these discussions are often neither beneficial nor appropriate for a productive work environment. To maintain a harmonious office space, it’s important to know how to address divisive political topics and what to do if they come up at work.
Having clear guidelines for acceptable workplace conduct is important to stay ahead of potentially incendiary political talk at the office, said Charles Wilson, vice chair and office managing partner at the law firm Cozen O’Connor. “These candidates have spouted these ideas, which will lead to heated debates in the workplace,” he said.
Political debates run amok in the office can have more damaging consequences than just awkward interactions among co-workers. Politics can divide the office, hamper productivity, worsen individual performance and cause unnecessary distractions to day-to-day company operations.
To avoid these obstacles, company leaders should send out emails and conduct meetings that remind employees what is acceptable workplace conversation. Although it is important to not limit an employee’s free speech, it is also crucial for every employee to focus on fulfilling the company’s goals and performing to the best of their abilities, and political conversations can lead to disruptions or worse, Wilson said.
For instance, immigration is one of the hot-button issues in this election cycle; reckless talk about this issue and race could lead to harassment and discrimination law suits for the company. “It’s wrong to make other people in the workplace feel like they don’t belong there,” Wilson said.
Executives also should check to make sure their anti-discrimination and harassment policies cover political talk, which will discourage discussion of these topics at work. Opinions on sensitive political issues that could offend co-workers should be reserved for after work.
Instead of engaging in controversial political speech, it’s likely best to stick to talking about your latest Netflix binge or talk of weekend plans with office mates.