March 26, 2024
Title image with "How to Foster a Healthy Workplace During an Election Year" over people at voting booths

In the 2022 Politics at Work Study by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 20% of HR professionals reported heightened political volatility at work compared to 2019. And with another election approaching, things aren’t likely to cool down. 

That leaves many employers wondering how the election year will impact their workplace and how to handle it while keeping their teams safe, satisfied, and productive. Navigating politics at work is no easy feat, as related conversations are more prevalent than ever. At the very least, they can cause disruption and tension when not addressed. Worse, they can result in conflict and a toxic environment.

Leaders and HR departments must now take a more proactive, empathetic approach to politics. But what does that look like, exactly? Let’s dive in below. 

Create a Psychologically Safe Environment

Developing a psychologically safe space with a focus on mental health should be a priority not only during an election year but 24/7. Start by getting a pulse on current employee sentiments about whether they feel safe in the workplace via anonymous surveys or other tools or by simply listening. This will help you understand your strengths and weaknesses regarding empathetic and respectful discussion, and then provide guidance and coaching where necessary.

Understand that an election year can be stressful for people. The SHRM study also found that “1 in 5 U.S. workers (20%) have experienced poor treatment in the workplace by coworkers or peers due to their political views.”

Foster a safe environment for employees to share political views without fear of ridicule or retaliation. Remind people that it’s okay to have conversations and disagree, and it’s possible to do so without becoming disrespectful or hostile. 

Research by workforce resilience platform provider meQuilibrium (meQ) shows that in workplaces with strong psychological safety, “employees are 60%-90% less likely than others to report uncivil behavior on their teams.”

Bottom line: Investing the time, energy, and resources into creating a psychologically safe space is worth it and makes a difference!

Don’t Ban Political Discussions

During the 2020 election, Zippia’s survey of 2,000 workers reported that 47% admitted to talking politics at work, and 79% found themselves distracted by the election. 

Prohibiting political discussions in the workplace may be tempting, but it’s often unrealistic—and can backfire. Instead, talk openly about your company values and remind people that everyone has different views and experiences. 

There’s also the matter of protected speech and concerted activity. Employers can ban activities like campaigning and wearing political attire at work. However, National Relations Board general counsel Jennifer Abruzzo told SHRM that political conversations may be covered by the National Labor Relations Act. 

Remind team members that while they have freedom of speech, they are responsible for their words and actions and how they affect their colleagues—and free speech does NOT cover inappropriate activity and language such as verbal abuse, bullying or harassment, disrespectful behavior, and threatening language and behavior. Create boundaries that allow for healthy conversation but prevent it from crossing the line. 

Simply put, emphasize mutual respect!

When crises or significant social/political events occur, take the time to determine how your organization will respond. We get it—this can be tricky. How can you respectfully speak on sensitive matters with your team and the public while accounting for various experiences and backgrounds? This is where consulting with a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) expert can guide the way on a case-by-case basis.

Train Managers & Leaders

Successfully navigating an election year at work starts at the top, so companies should provide training and workshops for management to enhance their skills around sensitive topics like politics, racism, social issues, and world events. Your leaders should:

  • Know how to facilitate open, respectful dialogue rather than shy away from it
  • Get comfortable with the uncomfortable
  • Remain neutral with an open ear without disregarding an employee’s opinions or experiences

Management should also focus on building rapport and trust with their employees—effective leaders will likely do this naturally. A 2023 survey by Development Dimensions International (DDI) found that less than a third of employees believe senior leaders at their workplace do “what’s right.” This drop shows the growing division and distrust, which is just another reason HR and leadership must focus on it now.

Communicate a zero-tolerance policy for hostile, harmful rhetoric and know how to address it. You might also host a company-wide meeting before, during, or right after Election Day to remind your team about healthy, safe dialogue—and to avoid discussions they can’t keep civil. During this meeting, leadership can reinforce the zero-tolerance policy on harassment and harmful behavior.

Review & Update Your Policies

Have you pulled out the employee handbook and revisited your political activity and civility policies recently? If not—or if you haven’t developed these policies yet—now is the time.

A political activity policy provides expectations and guidelines to prevent political discussions and activities from disrupting the work environment or damaging your company’s reputation. This document promotes an inclusive and respectful company culture by mitigating conflict between employees. A political policy typically:

  • Outlines prohibited behavior (e.g., campaigning, soliciting, wearing political attire)
  • Requires workers to ensure their political activities do not negatively impact the business
  • Defines unacceptable behavior, like harassment or discrimination based on political beliefs

While a civility policy is particularly relevant during an election year, it should also guide your team on respectful, professional behavior year-round. With political rifts growing, this policy is becoming more common in employee handbooks. This document outlines acceptable and unacceptable behavior, therefore helping your business: 

  • Foster a positive and respectful work environment—which can boost morale and productivity
  • Prevent incidents of workplace harassment, discrimination, or violence, along with legal liabilities
  • Showing employees, customers, and partners that you’re committed to creating a safe and respectful environment

Note that clarity and specificity are critical when describing unacceptable behavior. Learn more about political activity and civility policies and what each should include.

A Realistic Outlook & United Workforce for Election Year

If you know BlueLion, you know we keep it real—and there’s no sugarcoating the challenges of this politically and socially tumultuous time. So, if you’re wondering how to deal with politics at work, the first answer is not to simply look the other way.

Employers and HR professionals can bring their employees together by facing it head-on and instilling a culture of compassion, respect, and inclusion. People might even learn and gain perspective from one another’s experiences!

Do you need help navigating politics in the workplace? Whether you need guidance on policy development or handling a specific situation, BlueLion has your back. Contact us today at 603-818-4131 or

The information on this website, including its newsletters, is not, nor is it intended to be legal advice. You should contact an attorney or HR specialist for advice on your individual situation.