Thursday, August 2, 2012

Can Your Career Survive a Political Discussion?

I don't think I've ever worked anywhere that people didn't talk about politics. Of course, my jobs have always involved the news business, so that's pretty natural.
But I know that for some people, discussing politics at work can be uncomfortable. Still, is there any way to avoid it?
Check out this column I recently did for Gannett/USAToday...
Most of us know that it's best to stay away from discussions about politics and religion at work.
That doesn't mean everyone follows such dictates, even the people who say it's best to keep quiet.
As the presidential election approaches this year, political rhetoric is heating up along with the summer temperatures. It's natural that the issues being debated nationally will begin to filter down to the cubicle

That's why Kevin Sheridan thinks it's a waste of time to try to forbid workers to talk about politics at work. As senior vice president-HR optimization of Avatar HR Solutions, he says he's well aware of the rules in workplaces regarding political discussions.
Yet some employees will discuss the presidential elections or political issues even if they've been asked to refrain from doing it, he says.
"I think managers have to use common sense," he says. "This is an issue that employees are going to discuss. So it's better to address it and get it out in the open."
Workers need to be told that expressing their political views may not only be against company rules but also can cause friction among colleagues, Sheridan says. Co-workers who feel differently from their colleagues may start to pull away emotionally, becoming more isolated at work.
"I think managers can talk about that if you're going to have these conversations, you need to be aware of how others may not agree with you," he says. "Managers can make a ground rule that workers must treat one another with respect when having these discussions."
Instead of political discussions being seen as divisive, Sheridan also believes that they can present opportunities for colleagues to get to know one another better.

"Managers can encourage co-workers to ask questions and learn why the other person believes a certain way about an issue," he says. "It can helpful to just listen."
At the same time, workers should be reminded to keep their political discussions in perspective, not get too serious and even use humor to desensitize situations that become uncomfortable.
Such advice makes more sense than trying to keep employees from talking about politics, he says. The topics are sure to crop up more and more as the November elections approach.
Managers also can coach workers who would prefer not to discuss politics about some diplomatic ways to handle it without angering or alienating colleagues, Sheridan says.
"You can encourage them to say, 'You know, I'm just not comfortable discussing politics and would prefer not to get into it,' " he says.
Still, negative political comments that a worker finds offensive should be reported first to a manager and then to human resources if the manager doesn't take action to curtail such commentary, Sheridan says.
What if a manager urges employees to vote a particular way or pushes a particular point of view or candidate?
"Go to human resources confidentially and report you're very uncomfortable," he says. "That is extremely inappropriate for a manager, and HR should take care of it."
Do you talk about politics at work?


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