The folly of talking politics at work

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A federal election is looming in Canada, and politics across the country are pretty heated at the moment. The Liberal government is still embroiled in the SNC-Lavalin saga. Ontario’s Doug Ford is making bold moves that are angering some in the province. Albertans go to the polls today after a fractious election campaign.

In the era of the 24-hour news cycle, it’s difficult to get away from the news, or to compartmentalize so that you’re only talking politics at home or with friends. Our phones are always right in our hands, after all, buzzing with news updates. But it’s an absolute necessity, because unless you work for a politician, talking politics at work -- especially in the midst of a campaign season -- is generally a bad idea in these increasingly polarized times.

Why? Not everyone shares your ideology, even those you may assume do. People often have very intensely personal reasons for having allegiances to certain candidates or political parties. It’s possible your co-worker is simply a lifelong partisan, but what if it’s something more personal or profound than that, having to do with personal connections to candidates, a past trauma, a memory of a politician connected to a specific party that helped out a friend or family in some significant way -- or failed to?

Your co-worker may also hold some causes particularly dear that you don’t care about. You don’t know. And you likely shouldn’t.

If you’re a team leader and you’re frequently espousing political views, it will likely cause anxiety for team members who feel differently. That can easily inch closely to the realm of a toxic work environment, especially if the views you’re expressing are controversial and potentially hurtful to those working for you or those you work with, such as clients and partner agencies.

And if you’re noticing one of your employees frequently engaging in political talk at work, shut it down.

Speaking openly about your political views is fine at home or among friends, but, if nothing else, think hard about the smarts of engaging co-workers in political debates. What if one day your co-worker is your boss? Or one day goes on to work for a company that you’d like to join? Do you want them pigeon-holing you as insensitive at best, blindly partisan and ill-mannered at worst?

So what to talk about at work instead of politics?

Well, work, for starters. Or pets. Meals. Vacation plans. Recipes. Restaurants. Gardening. Travel fantasies. Sports fantasies. TV shows, movies or books you loved or loathed. The list goes on and on.

Everyone knows how uncomfortable dinner parties can become when politics becomes a heated topic of discussion. But guests can escape a dinner party. Someone’s job, on the other hand, is their livelihood, and it’s not as simple for those who don’t share your views to politely excuse themselves for the day. It pays to be aware, be polite, be mindful and separate your political opinions from your work life -- in election years and every other year.