Recently, the election cycle in the United States has been one for the ages. At points, it’s been so explosive that it’s probably hard to resist picking your coworkers’ brains about their political viewpoints.

Curiosity aside, is the office an appropriate place to discuss your affiliation with Clinton or Trump? What about other political events? Should you be able to discuss your views about Brexit on the clock? How do you handle hot button subjects like these in a professional realm where neutrality is usually the status quo?

Workplace Policy

According to Holland & Knight Law, many employees and employers alike mistakenly believe the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees “freedom of speech” at work.

The First Amendment applies only to government action and neither limits the rights of private employers to regulate employees’ communications nor provides any constitutional right for those workers to express thoughts or opinions at work. As a result, there is no constitutionally protected right of free speech in the offices and factories of private employers.

That being said, here’s a little from those in favor, or against allowing political discussion in the workplace.

  • Those against: According to Liane Davey, author of You First: Inspire Your Team to Grow Up, Get Along, and Get Stuff Done, “Politics is very personal and we tend to hold our beliefs extremely strongly. No matter how much others try to influence us, we’re not likely to move our positions — if anything, we’re likely to retrench.”
  • Those in favor: Patrick J. Egan, an associate professor of politics and public policy at NYU says even though the office might not be the easiest place to talk politics (if tactfully done) it might be one of the more productive spaces to do so.

According to Egan, the beauty of the workplace is the fact that you don’t have much control over the selection of people you interact with. “Chances are, your co-workers are not being selected on the basis of whether or not they agree with you politically … to the extent that we avoid these conversations in the workplace, we’re losing out on one of the few venues where we may encounter ideas that are different from our own.”

As you can see, these conversations can get murky, fast. Regardless of where you align on the political spectrum, should tempers flare at work, the following tips might help everyone keep cool:

  • Never assume your coworkers (even the ones you are close to) will agree with your political opinions.
  • Approach the conversations with an open mind and curiosity for understanding, rather than aiming to prove your point.
  • Look for shared values and common ground.
  • Be comfortable hearing opinions different from your own.

It might be best to implement policies stipulating employees only discuss subjects like these off the clock, whether that be during lunch or breaks.

Many of these subjects are nebulous and can quickly lead to long, winding conversations. To help combat that, Actsoft’s timekeeping function provides a means of tracking and monitoring the duration of breaks and lunches. While it might not be feasible to stipulate what employees can or can’t discuss (especially when they’re off the clock), it’s definitely possible to ensure those discussions don’t last indefinitely and everyone is back at work when they should be.

Unless carefully orchestrated, political conversations can potentially derail your workforce. Whether your company facilitates an area for those discussions depends, but regardless, those approaching these subjects require an open mind, a willingness to understand differing viewpoints, and a commitment to active listening.

 

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