How to Maintain Workplace Civility During This Election Season

Some managers would love to say to all of their employees, “When you enter the workplace, you cannot talk about politics.” However, this goes against the new norm of accepting that people must and will bring their whole selves to work. It’s unreasonable to think that people can just shut off or leave parts of themselves at the door when they enter their workspaces. Since the pandemic, more people understand that being allowed to be your true, authentic self at work without fear of retribution enhances feelings of belonging and well-being, while also helping to encourage a culture of psychological safety. The problem with this when it comes to politics is that people may have strong opinions, which can result in polarized, divisive, and often contentious work environments. It can also lead to people feeling harassed and/or bullied at work; and negatively impact employee morale

So how do you manage political discussions in the workplace? Can or should you try to restrict these types of conversations? I’m not so sure. When you think about it, almost any topic can cause strain between coworkers if they have different thoughts and opinions. Would you restrict conversations on any topic that is not directly work-related? If someone has a new baby, will you forbid them from talking about the newborn and how their life has changed? If an employee celebrates their 20th year wedding anniversary, would you prohibit them from talking about how they celebrated? If someone has a child who graduates from college, would you ban them from talking about it? I think not. Besides, in some instances, Federal and state laws protect certain types of speech (discussions) in the workplace. 

Libraries/organizations need to be prepared for the impact that an election can have on their employees. This includes the months leading up to an election (when negative mudslinging occurs) as well as the time following an election (January 6, 2020, is a prime example). It’s clear that in order to maintain a level of respect and civility in workplaces, libraries need to provide some guidelines for their employees. This article  suggests a few practical rules that employers should consider enforcing to help minimize tensions when employees discuss politics at work.

Employers have a legal responsibility to provide safe working environments. This can include protecting their employees and their organizations from bad behaviors (such as harassment) and hostile workplaces when discussions of politics arise. Rarely we will agree on everything with another individual. But we can always be civil and kind. In order to facilitate a culture of civility, employers should consider putting policies in place which ban harassment and bullying (be it political or any other type). These should not be tolerated in the workplace. Ultimately, our library work environments should be spaces where people are respectful of each other and the differences that exist, where they feel physically and psychologically safe every day.