You can't expect to keep political talk out of the workplace, and you likely wouldn't want to. But the wrong kind of talk--on any number of sensitive topics--can cause tensions and hard feelings, compromise your team's focus and effectiveness and steal too much time from important work. Here are some guidelines:
- Set the right example. Coming from you, even the mildest political comments will have a larger-than-life impact on employees. So be more circumspect than you might be in other settings and avoid lecturing or "correcting" others. They will follow your lead. Also, if a political issue has a direct bearing on your industry or workplace, you can point this out without obviously taking sides.
- Say no to proselytizing. People feel passionately about their political perspectives and beliefs, but that doesn't mean it's proper for them to try to convert (or "educate") their colleagues. Political preaching is no more appropriate or effective than religious preaching in the workplace. If people are interested in learning more about politics, they have plenty of opportunities away from the job.
- Say yes to humor. Intense political discussions can have a negative effect on team spirit, but good-natured joking about current events or political can lighten the mood. However, encourage your team members to be alert and cautious about each other's political "hot buttons."
- Establish a clear policy where you need to. You might provide written policies on displaying political signs, fundraising, or disrupting normal work routines with political discussions. In general, aim your policies at preventing anyone from aggressively trying to get others to "see the light," take unlawful action, or blame one particular group for widespread problems.