Q: I dread elections. I enjoy following politics. However, I have several colleagues who are very outspoken about their political beliefs and favorite candidates. My beliefs are swinging one way and their beliefs are swinging another way. I was brought up to believe you kept this information private. I remember my mother would not even disclose how she voted to family members when I was younger. Why do workplaces not respect this as a private decision? I feel like I have to begin avoiding these colleagues when the election talk really heats up. How do I voice my concerns without offending others? Some of my colleagues even circulate fundraising literature or information about political events. I am not looking forward to the fall.
A: Thanks for your question. You raise an interesting dilemma. As a general rule, I recommend avoiding discussions about sex, religion and politics in the workplace.
Discussing sex, in particular, can get an employee and the employer in hot water. There are laws which provide employees a harassment-free workplace. One comment may seem innocuous to one employee but offensive to another employee. It is subject that should be avoided.
Conversations around religion can also be dangerous. Some may feel excluded or different if there is a lot of discussion about one holiday or another.
Political discussions can be divisive. Many people are not interested in political banter, especially in the workplace. I think it is acceptable to say to others, “I feel like my political beliefs and candidate choices are private. I would prefer not to share them. I also prefer not to talk about politics in the office.” Additionally, conversations about politics take away from work time. Sometimes discussions about politics can even overlap with areas that could be perceived as inappropriate or even illegal.
I do think you have legitimate concerns. If you don’t speak up now, this behavior will only continue or worsen as we approach November. If this banter continues, I would raise the concern, in an appropriate way, with your supervisor. Your concern might sound like this: “Mary, I don’t know if you have noticed it but it seems like there are lots of conversations about politics and the upcoming election. Frankly, I feel like these choices are personal and the workplace is not a good venue to share them. Is there a way you can help me minimize these conversations?”
I think your mother was a wise woman. My mother used to say to me, "I voted for the best candidate."