Office politics: should you ban election talk at work?

Anna Roberts

May 2017 ⋅ 4 min read


Now that we’re deep into election season, you can’t escape politics - even at work.

If politics caused problems in your workplace in the build-up to the Brexit referendum, you’re probably rightly concerned about a repeat as the general election nears.

Sure, most politics talk is harmless enough, but what about employees handing out political leaflets or draping their desks in their party’s colours?

Is it smarter to ban election talk at work entirely, or try to set boundaries? Let’s look at both sides.

coloured pencils points touching

Yes, Ban Election Talk: The Office Isn’t the Place for Politics

Politics isn’t just another water cooler conversation topic. In fact, research shows it's one of the most awkward conversation topics for British workers.

And it can be incredibly divisive. That’s especially true given the current political climate in the UK - in many cases, we’re split down the Brexit Remain-Leave line. There’s little room for nuance, given that each side of the debate seems unable to compromise on their views.

What that means is that discussions about politics can quickly become heated if there’s any disagreement. Off-the-cuff remarks can trigger full-blown arguments, which might lead to permanent divides in the office. If you can’t trust your staff to keep it civil, it’s preferable to ask employees not to talk about politics at all.

There’s also the matter of isolation. If your office is dominated by a certain political slant, those employees that do disagree may choose to stay quiet instead of triggering a debate. This will only isolate those employees. They’ll feel like outsiders. You’ll also be encouraging a culture that is intolerant of diverse views.

Finally, there’s a chance that customers and clients will overhear your employees talking politics. You don’t need us to tell you why that could end in disaster.

No, There’s No Need to Ban It

Let’s start with the pragmatic argument: there’s simply no practical way to ban a topic of conversation in the workplace.

Politics is such a hot topic precisely because it impacts our lives so significantly - particularly at the moment. Preventing staff from discussing politics at work is like telling staff they can’t talk about their families. It’s not feasible.

Although there’s no arguing that political arguments aren’t good for office morale, civil discussions on politics can actually be constructive. Employees might actually learn something from these conversations, and build a rapport with colleagues who share their views - and perhaps even those employees who they disagree with!

If employees can learn to handle political discussions in a respectful, diplomatic manner, they can apply this technique to future difficult work-related discussions.

Lastly, if you pride your office on its open, welcoming atmosphere, then banning politics talk is a huge contradiction. The better approach is to only take action against election discussions when things turn sour.

Election Talk at Work: A Survival Guide

hiking looking out over landscape

Of course, most offices will take a stance somewhere in between; setting boundaries on political discussion either in a workplace policy or informally. Here are some basic guidelines you should try to follow:

  • Be neutral. This should go without saying, but it can be incredibly difficult for managers to remain politically neutral during election season.
  • Allow staff to express political opinions, but not to attack the opinions of others. This’ll keep political discussions civil and encourage your employees to constructively criticise arguments instead of resorting to insults.
  • Create a Slack/HipChat channel for politics talk. If you use a team chat platform, this is the perfect place to let your politically minded employees hold fearsome debates without bothering staff who aren’t interested.
  • Encourage employees to agree to disagree. We’re all stubborn about politics - tell staff that you expect them to agree to disagree instead of elongating arguments until the cleaner kicks them out the office at 7 pm.
  • Don’t allow employees to hand out political leaflets. Again, don’t let your political employees bother the uninterested by dishing out leaflets and posters. It isn’t appropriate for work.
  • Warn employees about politics talk on social media. Asking staff to include the phrase ‘all opinions my own’ or similar in their Twitter profile doesn’t really achieve much. If they’re Tweeting from personal accounts, they can share and write what they like - but expressing extreme political views in a public setting is only likely to land them in trouble.
  • On the day after the election, don’t let staff on the ‘winning side’ boast about their ‘victory’. Accept that some employees will be feeling miserable after the result. In this instance, it may be best to make the office a politics-free zone for the day.

Final thoughts

The extent to which you restrict politics discussion at work will depend on your office culture. Even if you’re confident that everyone in your team or office has similar political views, by dismissing the other ‘side’ too aggressively you risk isolating employees who’ve kept their differing views to themselves.

Overall, try to minimise political distractions at work. You may not be able to feasibly ‘ban’ talk of this year’s general election, but you can set some boundaries.