Should you stop employees talking politics at work?

May 12, 2021

Political discussion can be divisive. Whether it’s the US Election, or the latest on Brexit, there’s bound to be a topic which splits your colleagues down the middle – and I wouldn’t blame you for wanting to stop employees talking politics at work.  

But is it wise to actually ban political discussion in the workplace? Basecamp certainly thought so… but not everybody seemed to agree. 

Basecamp bans political discussion 

On April 26th 2021, Basecamp announced a long list of company changes. Perhaps the one that captured most attention, was the banning of political discussions at work. 

“No more societal and political discussions on our company Basecamp account” wrote the company’s CEO, Jason Fried. “It saps our energy, and redirects our dialog towards dark places. It’s not healthy, it hasn’t served us well. And we’re done with it on our company Basecamp account where the work happens.” 

Jason added that employees were free to continue such conversations on personal platforms, such as Whatsapp. But as far as political discussion in the digital workspace, this was the end of the line.  

Not all employees appreciate the decision 

A politics-free workplace. Sounds great, right? Not necessarily. After all, while freedom of speech in the workplace may not necessarily be a legal right, it’s still something many Brits are fiercely fond of.  And not everybody at Basecamp was impressed. 

One employee, quoted by The Verge, said: “We’ve hired opinionated people, we’ve created opinionated software, and now basically the company has said ‘well your opinions don’t really matter – unless it’s directly related to business’”. 

So is it right to let employees continue talking politics at work, for the sake of their free speech? Or should you silence all controversial topics, lest they lead to an argument? The answer isn’t clear. 

Should you tolerate employees talking politics at work? 

Naturally, you don’t want to foster a hostile working environment. And of course, political discussion is one of the fastest ways to turn any social situation hostile. And most workplace etiquette advice points towards avoiding talking politics at work full stop. But if you take it as far as banning the topic altogether, employees may well find themselves feeling a little patronised, as if you don’t think they’re mature enough to choose what to chat about. 

Psychology Today recommends keeping political chatter to a minimum where possible – but in most cases, you should be able to achieve a state of calm simply by encouraging an environment where respect is front and centre.  

If you can maintain a healthy and respectful work environment, does it really matter what your employees choose to chat about? And surely it is wise to accept – or possibly even celebrate – differences in opinions in the workplace. After all, diverse and inclusive teams out-perform their peers by 80%. 

In a nutshell, I believe that as long as your employees know how to treat each other with respect, value one another’s opinions, and care for each other’s feelings, then you should stop worrying about subject matter, and avoid over-policing the way employees behave. 

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