Politically Speaking at Work: Be Careful

IndianaChamber clrAt times, people ask me who I am going to/have voted for in key election campaigns. Depending on who is doing the asking, my answer ranges from "none of your business" to a brief, but thoughtful, response and reason.

The point is that political discussion and debates can be a touchy issue, particuarly in the workplace. Challenger, Gray & Christmas, the global outplacement consulting firm, warns about the pitfalls and offers some advice for the do’s and don’ts of on-the-job politics.

John Challenger: “Political discussion is the hallmark of a free society, but when the debate enters the workplace, it can create some significant problems. Political debates in the workplace not only can present a possible disruption of productivity, but they can create a tension-filled work environment.

"In extreme cases, these debates can even become hostile. For co-workers who discover that they disagree on a hot-button issue like defense spending, women’s health, and health care plans, which have been thoroughly debated in the media, it can be difficult to set aside these differences when it comes time to coordinate on a project."

The firm offers the following guidance:

Keep it civil: Do not let friendly banter deteriorate into a name-calling shouting match.

Know your colleague: Career-wise, it is probably safer to converse with those who share your views. If unsure about a colleague’s views, then avoid political conversations or carefully probe for his or her views.

Do not campaign: Give-and-take conversations are acceptable, but campaigning can be off-putting. If someone expresses discomfort with political discussions, respect his or her wishes.

If you must talk politics, stick to politics: While politics are increasingly entwined with religion, consider that aspect of the debate off limits.

Do not evaluate based on politics: You may not agree with a co-worker’s political views, but, if you are a supervisor, do not let that influence your assessment of that person’s work and/or value to the company.