How to Talk About Politics at Work

George Washington on abstract background

Pictured: George Washington talking over abstract background/Taylor Tieden for BioSpace

Talking about politics can be tricky, especially at work, where there’s an added layer of complexity. You may worry about how discussing certain topics could affect your relationships with co-workers, including your boss. In fact, you might not want to talk about politics at all, especially during a presidential election year, when conversations tend to get more intense. 

However, it can be hard to avoid these discussions, as they often come up in the workplace, as shared in a Glassdoor survey conducted in October. It found that 61% of U.S. full- and part-time employees had discussed politics with colleagues at work during the past 12 months. So, just how should you talk about political issues if you want to raise a specific topic or find yourself in the middle of a conversation?  

4 Guidelines for Discussing Politics at Work

Political discussions at work tend to occur in casual settings such as at lunch, when employees let their guards down, or when they’re with people they’ve built relationships with, Stacy Solorio, chief people officer at Karius, told BioSpace.  

When expressing your political views at work, Solorio recommends following the four guidelines Karius communicates to its employees. They involve aligning with company policies, treating others with respect, avoiding assumptions about people’s political views and not disrupting company culture.  

The first guideline directs employees to ensure they’re not violating the company’s harassment policies or its code of conduct when using Karius equipment and systems like Slack. If your employer has internal communication channels such as Slack or Yammer, you can check if it has similar policies and align your conversations with them.  

The second guideline advises employees to treat others who may not share their political views with respect. This rule of thumb is key to how Karius approaches political discussions at work. While Solorio does not advocate for talking about politics in the workplace, she noted, “I don’t want to say, ‘No, you can’t do it. I just want to guide you on how to have respectful conversations.’” 

Solorio said one way to have such conversations is not assuming everyone shares your political views, which is the third Karius guideline. Instead, she advised, create space for listening. Hear other people’s opinions and perspectives. 

The fourth guideline is that employees shouldn’t allow the expression of their political views to disrupt the company’s strong culture of collaboration. You can apply this recommendation by considering how conversations could affect the way you collaborate with co-workers at your organization. You may decide it’s best to avoid some or all political discussions. 

You wouldn’t be alone if you made that decision, according to a ResumeHelp survey conducted in January. More than half (51%) of workers said they rarely or never discuss politics at work, and 51% believe political discussions in the workplace hurt the work environment. 

That said, the Glassdoor survey found that 82% of workers are comfortable working with colleagues who have very different political views from their own. 

What to Do if Conversations Get Too Intense

Despite people’s best intentions, and especially during an election year, political discussions can get too intense for some. Solorio recommended that anytime you’re uncomfortable or something doesn’t feel right, share your concerns with your manager or HR. She also said to read the room to see how others are doing. For example, Solorio explained, you might be OK with a discussion but notice that your co-worker Susie is struggling with it. 

“It’s not just about your own personal belief about how the conversation is going,” she said. “It’s making sure that everybody feels respected, because Susie might not have the voice to come forward to HR or to her manager, and somebody needs to make sure that that conversation is captured in some way so that people can get the right coaching and training to make sure that it is a respectful workplace.” 

How Karius Makes Space for Important Conversations

Karius leaders promote respectful conversations by hosting open forums on topics beyond election-year issues so employees can share their perspectives. Solorio said these conversations are important in part because world events can not only distract employees but also affect their mental wellness.  

“If you can create those spaces inside of work where people can share and feel like they’re listened to, that they are being educated in some way, that they have a place to process and feel a sense of community, I think that’s a huge pro,” she said. 

Solorio recalled a 2022 open forum focused on the unrest in Iran where an Iranian employee spoke about growing up in Iran and what his family has experienced there. Hearing personal stories like this about major world events is valuable, she said. 

“You can see it on TV, and you could try to understand, but when somebody you’ve worked with for four years—you know them, you’ve had happy hour with them, you’ve had lunch with them, you’ve done great work together—shares what that means to them personally, it’s just such a different experience.” 

Angela Gabriel is content manager, life sciences careers, at BioSpace. You can reach her at angela.gabriel@biospace.com and follow her on LinkedIn

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