Keeping Politics Out of the Workplace

Taking Sides: Politics in the Office. What is TMI?

With national politics constantly in the media and on the public’s mind, it can be difficult to keep political opinions to oneself in the professional setting. Colleagues who voice their political viewpoints – whether around the water cooler or via social media – could create discomfort or voice unintended biases against coworkers above, below, or beside them in the reporting structure.

The New York Times recently reported the results of a Social Science Research Network study demonstrating the substantial influence of CEO’s political preferences on employees and how they think about elections. Does an employee’s political view garner a similar response? The workplace is an obvious environment in which political opinions can arise but making them known publicly can affect one’s relationships at work.

I interviewed Jane Trnka, SPHR and Executive Director of the Career Resource Center at Rollins College Crummer Graduate School of Business, to provide a few best practices for sharing political opinions at work and on social media. She recommends the following tips and advice to encourage a professional level of political discourse among co-workers as well as on social media platforms.

In the Work Environment

Take the conversation outside or avoid it altogether
If you find yourself in a political conversation and think it will be lengthy or has the possibility to get contentious, suggest moving the discussion after workhours. Your employer expects you to be productive at the office. Political discussions can disrupt your work as well as that of others in the office and can have the long-lasting effect of generating disharmony among colleagues.

While in meetings and presentations, keep your political views to yourself, including comments on the latest tweet storm or presidential gaffe. Should political comments come up, quickly shift the focus back to the meeting’s intent – the rest of the room will appreciate it. When politics get involved, a partnership that took years to build can crumble in seconds.

Question the relevancy
If asked during an interview or business meeting about your political opinion, inquire how it relates to the role, company, or project. If it does not, politely suggest you return to the topic of conversation. Trnka further suggests, “If this happens during an interview and it negatively impacts your chance of being hired, reconsider whether the organization is the best fit for you anyway.”

On social media

Watch your language
Anything posted on social media is recorded forever. Be aware of sharing your views and keep them professional – even on more personal platforms such as Facebook and Instagram – by always avoiding inappropriate language. Trnka comments, “The language you use portrays your personality and impacts your credibility as well as that of those you associate with. Assume that everything you post will be seen by the world – because it can be.”

Whether they admit it or not, hiring leaders review candidates’ Facebook and Twitter profiles for red flags. How much your online activity impacts the hiring decision depends on the nature of the job, but if it is down to you and another candidate who has a more professional online identity that won’t rub internal and external stakeholders the wrong way, who will they choose? Beyond evaluating your skill set, employers look for a cultural fit to see if you have staying power within the organization.

Consider a secondary profile
If you insist on using social media to express your political opinions, create a separate social media handle using your middle name, for example, to separate these posts from your business persona and connect with personal and professional contacts through the appropriate handle.

Know your audience
Consider how your current and potential business associates will react when they read your social media comments. Be aware of the “halo” and “horn” biases. These happen when we draw a general impression of an individual on the basis of a single characteristic, such as political view. Sure, some may think you are wiser, but the negative consequences can far outweigh the good. Subconsciously or deliberately, you may be overlooked to work on a high profile project or not invited to brainstorm a new idea based on your political opinions.

“In all cases, it is best to know your audience so you can engage in a constructive and respectful conversation,” says Trnka. “Be respectful of others’ opinions. Someone once suggested to me, you have a right to your opinion, but it does not mean that your opinion is right, especially to the other party.”

Expressing political views at work or on social media is a risk that can negatively impact your professional relationships. You may be trying to deepen your business connections, but those who disagree may also discount your business acumen and the valuable contributions you bring to your organization.

If you want others to judge you and engage with you based on your professional qualifications, keep your election day activities between you and the voting booth.


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