It seems like our appetites for politics are only becoming stronger. Despite the advice that we’re not supposed to talk religion or politics at the office, politics pops up at work.
Many offices have guidelines prohibiting wearing political clothing or bringing campaign material into the workplace. The same goes for sending out political emails to workers or using work time to tweet or blog about your views.
Doing this could annoy your boss to boot. Play it safe — leave campaigning for the weekend.
Even after work, when talking politics is technically OK, it’s still your best bet to tread lightly. As unfair or unreasonable as it may seem, knowing your personal politics can quickly change someone’s opinion of you and even of your work. Making a heated comment on Facebook or during happy hour — even if it’s funny — can easily offend someone, tarnishing the hard-earned reputation you’ve built for yourself.
And don’t overlook clients and potential employers who could be turned off too. A good rule of thumb: Pretend everyone around you is in the opposite camp and plan your political comments accordingly, even after hours.
But let’s face it, a little political talk at the water cooler happens. Just make sure you keep it as friendly and lighthearted as possible. Remember, you won’t convince your office mates to switch political parties or even to change their position on an issue, so avoid launching into any talk that could be taken for a lecture or debate.
Instead, approach discussions as conversations. Nonconfrontational, open-ended questions might help you get a new perspective on an issue or about a co-worker. Keep an open mind and be sincerely interested in others’ views.
Still, there are some topics you’ll never be able to talk about in an office setting. Hot-button issues like same-sex marriage or abortion are simply best to avoid, mainly because there’s no middle ground — opinions are often tied to religious or moral beliefs and going down this road will result in intense conversation.
If you see that political chitchat is getting heated or confrontational, it’s time to walk away. Getting a co-worker to see your point is not as important as keeping things calm, cool and classy in the office.
Say something like, “Oh, look at the time! I need to get back to work/make a phone call/run an errand before lunch.” Try to lighten the mood — change the subject in a funny way: “Now, let’s talk about something important like Lady Gaga at halftime.”
But if your co-worker persists, be more direct. “I think we’re going to have to agree to disagree” or “This conversation is getting too heated for the office — let’s change the subject,” with the hope of stopping the talk.
Talking politics can be tricky, but everyone should just hold strong and keep the office a neutral zone.
What does the law say?
Can the owners of a business have the HR department simply send out a memo banning political discussion? The answer: It’s complicated. Employees may cite the First Amendment, but that has to do with government behavior, not an employer’s rights to regulate an office. So employers have a lot of leeway to curb office discussions, but it’s not infinite. First, some states give more latitude to employee discussions than does federal law. Also, the National Labor Relations Act grants nonsupervisory employees the right to discuss a variety of wage and wage-related topics, and sometimes the line between NLRA discussions and politics can be thin.
So although you can always ask for civility, no matter how heated the political debates, think carefully, and consult HR professionals, before creating a policy to limit discussion.