Article (April-2019)

Articles

Handling political discussions at workplace

Shailesh Parikh

Designation : -   Deputy General Manager (HR)

Organization : -  Reliance Industries Limited, Hazira, Surat

01-Apr-2019

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Politics and conversations about politics is very favourite among us Indians. It will not be inappropriate to quote that India is the country with high fervent for politics. In India every second person self qualifies to take part in discussions on politics and they promptly enter into such discussions irrespective of the place and person. Many a times such discussions get dragged to a level that restrain is missed and it ends hurting one's sentiments and generating feeling of anguish and anger.

Organization and workplace are no exclusion. We have witnessed that environment and temperament of workplace is affected by larger external environment. People do carry along such contagious temperaments and moods at workplace. In organizations, it is common to find people discussing and debating about political issues and political viewpoints at places like cafeteria, pantry, and water cooler and also during zero hours of meetings. Many a time such casual political conversations take form of aggressive debate and turns into hate speech targeting the political ideology, party or person they don't follow. Loud and harsh statement of an employee directed to a political entity might be taken as personal attack by other colleagues.

Obviously, the conversation about politics are not as simple and innocuous as routine day to day workplace conversation.

During the last presidential election in USA, The American Psychological Association had conducted a survey to study impact of political conversation and discussions at work place. 

The results are quite shocking and an eye-opening :
  • 25% of employees were negatively affected by political debates and arguments and they felt more isolated from their colleagues.
  • Work place hostility was observed due to continued political discussions at workplace.
  • 17% have mentioned that as a result of political discussions they have felt tensed or stressed out.
  • 15% of employees have been more cynical and negative at work.
  • 10% of employees had more difficulties in getting work done.
  • 13% have felt that they have been less productive at work.
  • 10% employees also found that as a result of political discussions they have found the quality of their work has been suffered.
Customers might also alienate themselves from the company if employees espouse a strong political view and demonstrate disregards for other divergent political views.

In India the quinquennial general elections are approaching and the political temperament and polarization of ideologiesis seen across segments of society, creating subtle hostility. In this pre-election times, not only the nation wants to know but also the nation wants to speak. As the election will approach closer the amount and intensity of political debates are likely to increase at places, including the workplace.

For organizations it is necessary to put adequate measures to ensure that employees do not bring political discussions at workplace and do not prompt their colleagues in such type of discussions.

The nation like USA where diversity and regards for personal dignity are high, the political discussions are generating such negative impact, in the culture like us, the political discussions and debates at workplace are more likely to have larger and serious negative impact.

In view of the current atmosphere of political happenings and considering typical cultural aspects of our organizations, it will be sensible for organizations to take necessary preventive measures to minimize negative effect of political discussions at workplace.

Following are possible measures that can be adapted :

1) Encourage respect for diversity and establish culture of civility.

2) As per SHRM report about 24% of companies in USA have formal, and 8% of the companies have informal policies for prohibition of political conversations at workplace. There are no data about such pronounced policy by companies in India. However, in case of setting like us it will not be advisable to put a blanket ban on any such discussions as it may sound contradictory with fundamental rights.

Hence organizations should obtain consensus of stakeholders and issue an Advisory to discourage political discussions and debates at workplace.

3) Through formal communications, make employees aware and also project to them that any indulgence in such conversations at workplace is being viewed as deterred and distasteful and over indulgence in such activity may negatively hamper one's career prospects.

4) Make strict implementation of company's social media policy to curb spreading of political news and messages among employees.

5) Involvement of leaders and managers in political discussions shall be "Big No". As their views may be perceived as "Management's views", also if they involve themselves, it will be difficult for them to prevent such discussions at workplace. 

6) Educate managers, how to walk away from political discussions in office without offending the team members.

7) In cafeteria and such places avoid telecasting TV programs likely to stimulate political debates.

8) Managers should have special attention to corridor conversations to identify and counsel employees inclined to have political discussions, very often.

9) Make sure that no representative of company gives any interview or opinion regarding political views or ideology, especially during such time of political hyper sensitivity.

From practical perspectives, it is impossible to completely ban political discussions at work place, but at the same time it is the responsibility of the employer to provide a safe and comfortable workplace where everyone's sentiments and dignity is maintained and employees from diverse background feel included.

(Views expressed are personal)