Office politics: What's OK to share?
By Jess Gilbert
M emories of Donald Trump’s recent State visit to the UK still loom large.
Before he’d even arrived on our shores The Donald had used his favourite social media channel to insult Sadiq Khan (again), branding him “a stone-cold loser”. This sparked quite a conversation in our London office around the tone of the language used and what was acceptable to air in a position like his.
Whilst Donald Trump isn’t our problem on this side of the pond, we’re not exactly immune to political turmoil. The Brexit vote has, in some cases, ripped families and friendship groups apart and the question whether you’re a Leaver or a Remainer has become both tribal and personal. Can these divisions also be applied in the workplace?
In these charged political times, here are some Dos and Don’ts to ensure your workplace isn’t ripped apart by opposing points of view.
Know your facts
Fake news is, of course, the buzz term of our times, and as PRs we’re more aware of this than most. Fake news is seen as one of the greatest threats to democracy, free debate and the West. So, when debating politics with colleagues, make sure you don’t become a victim to this phenomenon; don’t spew lies from a headline you quickly glanced over when scrolling through twitter, or quote from unverified sources. It’s okay to admit you are not up to speed on a particular political issue or to diplomatically say to colleagues “let’s catch up on this tomorrow when I’ve done some digging”. Diplomacy and honesty are key traits for the workplace in general so make sure you demonstrate them even when debating topics which aren’t work-related. As such you should always try to source news from a reputable outlet you trust (and we couldn’t possibly say which ones…).
Know your boundaries
Some experts will advise you not to talk politics or religion in the workplace at all. However, there will naturally be some scenarios where political issues are unavoidable, such as during election season where everywhere you look political parties are vying for your vote. What can be done in this situation is to remember everyone has different boundaries and not all your colleagues want to broach politics in the same way as you. And they probably don’t all vote the same way as you. Therefore, ask permission to discuss before diving head first. Remember that the whole point of a democracy is that people can vote for whoever they want to, so you need to respect that.
Know your triggers (and that of your colleagues)
Politics is personal and at work you are not always aware of your colleagues’ past and personal circumstances. There are several reasons behind why people have a particular point of view; socio-economic, their family background, or other personal experiences. Never generalise and assume your colleagues will think the way you do. There are several factors affecting a person’s outlook on life. So, in the workplace, it’s important to be mindful of triggers and to use self-awareness to regulate your emotions rather than lose control.
Being out of office does not let you off the hook
After-work drinks and social media are not technically in the office, however you are still expected to hold a degree of professionalism when representing your workplace. Facebook or in the pub is not the place to offend people and you must still tread carefully when sharing your opinions; you don’t want to tarnish your hard-earned reputation. Even in a setting where your colleagues have the same outlook, remember there are always potential employers or clients out there who could change their opinion of you.
Ultimately, we spend on average 1842 hours a year working. We spend more of our weekdays with our colleagues than our family members or housemates. This is why maintaining a calm, working environment is so much more important than trying to change your colleagues’ political opinion to match yours. One of the best lessons to learn in life is knowing when to walk away from a political debate and knowing how to change the topic of conversation. And embracing the fact that we’re all different and we surely can all learn from each other, whether we agree on politics or not.