Talking politics at work a bad idea

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A timely reminder that talking politics at work is always a bad idea – especially in the current climate.

Although conversations around the lunch room table can be dull and uninspired, initiating a discussion about the youthful exuberance within the Green Party and comparing them to the sage wisdom within New Zealand First has no real upside.

Our own world views and preferences are the result of our own deeply rooted and unique experiences throughout our lives, some of which are the result of very emotional and passionate beliefs.  Trying to convince someone to abandon their views and belief system in favour of yours is a recipe for disaster and for a workplace to become divided and acrimonious.

Over the last three or so years society has become less benign, more opinionated and entrenched in their own beliefs.  The lack of empathy or understanding that society currently exhibits and recent events that have shaped our psyche make a political debate in the workplace even more perilous.

With New Zealand’s general election only a matter of weeks away the interest in the outcome and the lobbying for the participants will increase but the ensuing conversations can be detrimental to workplace morale and productivity. What we should be aspiring to is for the workplace to be a positive and harmonious work environment where everyone works to achieve the same goals – to meet the needs of your clients and stakeholders.

While often conversations about political preferences can seem good-natured and interesting, they can quickly create division and impair relationships that would otherwise be productive and collaborative. Some staff don’t feel comfortable engaging in a debate of this type which in turn results in them harbouring resentment towards a colleague that can underpin a long held grudge.  Someone that is overzealous in the support of a particular political allegiance can be isolated and deter people from interacting with them.

If you’re on the fence about whether political discussions are healthy for the workplace, ask yourself these questions:

  1. What is constructive about your team members debating potentially divisive, hot-button issues where emotions could run high and arguments could break out?
  2. If staff are talking strongly about their views regarding proportional representation are employees likely to feel uncomfortable or discriminated against?
  3. Do you want to expose customers to your employees’ personal political beliefs, which has the potential alienate them? Does this serve your business’ goals?

Chances are, your answers to these questions will reinforce the first line of this piece and confirm it’s a bad idea to talk politics in the workplace.

So, how can you set boundaries for what’s appropriate to talk about at work and prevent the possibility of these situations from arising in the first place? As an employer, you have a responsibility to model good behaviour and stop any disruptions that can negatively impact the working environment, customer service or the team’s overall performance.  A good employer should also ensure all employees feel comfortable and included in their workplace.  To do so, a good employer (and its managers) will:

  • Set a good example by adhering to no-politics rules while in the workplace
  • Refrain from joking about controversial topics.
  • Stay engaged with their team and what they’re talking about
  • If required, politely reminds employees that they’re off task and that these discussions belong outside the workplace. If necessary, remind them that we all have different beliefs.

Talking politics at work is never a good idea as it can harm interpersonal relationships, productivity, performance and the overall culture. Besides, there are so many more uplifting things that we can talk about that we all agree on, Up The Wahs!

How can we help?

WRMK Lawyers has Northland’s largest team of employment law specialists. If you need some help or guidance, please give one of us a call or contact your usual WRMK lawyer for advice. You can view our Employment Law team here.

Our thanks to David Grindle for writing this article, which was first published  in the Northern Advocate on 12 September 2023.

Every effort has been made to ensure accuracy in this article. However, the items are necessarily generalised and readers are urged to seek specific advice on particular matters and not rely solely on this text.

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