Encouraging Civil Political Discourse in the Workplace

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Encouraging Civil Political Discourse in the Workplace

It’s difficult to have a conversation with anyone in the U.S. these days without something of a political nature coming up - so it’s entirely likely that politics will be discussed among your employees in the workplace. More so than ever, politics is a divisive topic; it’s inevitable that opinions will differ and tempers could potentially flare. That could lead to the creation of an uncomfortable workplace with behaviors ranging from verbal disputes, bullying, shouting or even physical violence in your place of business.

Americans enjoy a constitutionally protected right to free speech and yet it’s important to note that this right only means that the government cannot enact laws that exert control over what we are allowed to express. So, many Americans mistakenly believe that they are free to say anything they want, wherever they want - including in the workplace. The fact is, however, as a private company, you have the right to exercise a great deal of control over which topics your employees are allowed to broach within your place of business - and how they can be expressed.

Civility in the workplace matters because its presence helps to retain employees, increase morale and productivity and make the place of business generally more pleasant, secure and inclusive.

Short of restricting any and all political expression in the workplace - which is probably close to impossible - let’s explore how to ensure that the discourse remains civil. First, a definition to enlighten our discussion:

According to the Institute of Civility, “Civility is claiming and caring for one’s identity, needs, and belief without degrading someone else’s in the process.” This article on MoneyCrashers goes on to say: It is about disagreeing without disrespect or being disagreeable, seeking common ground as a starting point for dialogue about differences, and listening past one’s own preconceptions, stereotypes, and prejudices. In short, it is the Golden Rule of personal relationship.

From that starting point, how can you create an environment in the workplace that makes employees feel safe to share their beliefs and opinions without fear of denigration, ridicule or downright hostility? Here are some actions and policies you could consider:

Frame Political Discourse Appropriately

Think of political opinion as being another aspect of diversity among employees. From that mindset, it’s easier to frame them as something to be accepted, not railed against. After all, your employees are individuals and it’s only natural that they have a variety of outlooks on the world.

Create a civility policy and clearly state it to your staff

Tailor your company’s civility policy to the individuals in your employ as much as possible. Are they likely to wear caps or shirts with political slogans? Will that alone prove disruptive to the point where prohibition of such clothing is necessary? Do employees have their own space where political paraphernalia could be displayed? Does that have potential to upset coworkers with opposing viewpoints?  Will it take actual conversation/disagreement/argument to strike discord to the extent that it is disruptive to employee comfort and productivity? The policy can be updated to reflect the ways in which it affects employees and the workplace as a whole. There should be serious repercussions brought upon employees who don’t abide by the terms of your civility policy.

Set expectations and enforce them consistently

Allow - even encourage - respectful political discourse as a means to better know one’s coworkers if at all possible. An expectation that employees do not seek to make the workplace hostile but rather than champion their own opinions is valid. That being said, make certain that all employees are empowered to know that they have the right to request that a coworker stop a conversation that causes them to feel uncomfortable, and recourse with management if their request isn’t respected.

Comply with the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA)

According to their website, the National Labor Relations Act is a federal law that applies to most private sector employers. It grants employees, among other things, the right to engage in protected, concerted activities to address or improve working conditions; or refrain from engaging in these activities. As seen here, they stated recently in a memo that employee-handbook civility rules generally will be held to be valid under the NLRA. The memo stated that lawful civility rules might provide, for example, that "behavior that is rude, condescending or otherwise socially unacceptable is prohibited."

An employer can’t make all their employees agree with one another - especially where politics is concerned - but he or she can Ensure that create an expectation of civility with a plan of action to implement and enforce it. your workplace feels safe, respectful and pleasant by incorporating the practice of civility into your business’ operation.

How do you ensure that political discourse remains civil in your place of business?

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