HR & Employment Law Insights

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Scottish Referendum Getting Closer

18th September is getting closer and the first real TV debate started this evening.  The debate is likely to heat up over the coming weeks, as both sides try to influence voters.   I remember my gran telling me when I was younger there’s 3 things I should never discuss on a night out – football, politics and religion.  In a way, the same could be said for the workplace, as these subjects often cause some disagreements.

Here’s some useful guidance on political discussions in the workplace.

The Manager’s Role

As a manager or supervisor, if you become aware of political or another discussion, name calling, you need to deal with it as you would any other potentially negative situation that can escalate into conflict among people. Don’t ignore the political discussion. It won’t stop on its own and will likely escalate unless you give employees a friendly reminder.

  • Recognise that you walk a fine line between allowing your employees freedom of expression and managing a potential source of conflict. Casual discussion during the work day, when it does not interfere with work, is crucial for developing work relationships. Positive work relationships are essential for positive moral and employee retention.
  • If you are concerned that political and/or other sensitive issue discussions are getting out of hand, manage the potential conflict before it escalates. Provide feedback to remind people that political discussion, that potentially harms interpersonal relationships, belongs outside the workplace.
  • If you are concerned that political and/or other sensitive issue discussions are getting out of hand, manage the potential conflict before it escalates. Provide feedback to remind people that political discussion, that potentially harms interpersonal relationships, belongs outside the workplace.
  • Communicate the difference between expressing personal beliefs – which should be acceptable, although often unwise at work – and attacking the beliefs of others – which is not acceptable.
  • Consider whether you want to allow or ban slogans or objects that could potentially create conflict among your employees. This could include stickers, flags etc.
  • Promote respect and dignity at work and emphasise respect for different ideas, beliefs and needs.
  • Make sure your Code of Conduct clearly spells out the type of action available to you if people are bullying others, or behaving aggressively.
  • Lead by example – you’ll have your own views and it is important not to impose these on your employees.  Know when to walk away from the discussion, as people will mirror your behaviour and approach.

Freedom of expression is good in the workplace, especially if you want a workplace environment that encourages diversity, seeks ideas and opinions, allows room for respectful disagreement and fosters continuous improvement. Watch to make sure, however, that the discussion of politics, religion and differing beliefs does not escalate into workplace conflict and cause hurt to feelings.

I’m sure this subject will rumble on for some time after 18th September, regardless of the outcome.