Tensions are running high in the workplace as employees try to manage the stress of work, the pandemic and political news.
For many employees, this anxiety has led to ongoing conversations about politics at work, with some people being vocal about who they do and don't support and what policies they are or aren't in favor of.
According to a survey from the Society for Human Resource Management, many of these political conversations have led to conflict in the workplace with 42% of working Americans saying they've personally experienced political disagreements at work and 44% saying they've witnessed these disagreements take place with other people. Additionally, over a third of working Americans say their workplace is not inclusive of different political perspectives, with one in 10 saying they've experienced differential treatment because of their political views, according to SHRM's survey.
Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., president and CEO of SHRM tells CNBC Make It that with 2020 being an election year it's common for political conversations to take place at work and it's important for us to understand that "people have the right to have their opinion."
Below Taylor, along with communications expert and Udemy instructor Alexa Fischer, share three tips for dealing with political conversations at work, especially when you have a boss or colleague with opposing political views.
When engaging in political conversations at work, Taylor says it's important to respect other people's opinion and to treat the discussion like you would any other topic in the workplace.
"I think the same approach that we apply to any other form of diversity and diverse perspective conversations applies to this situation," he says. "Your boss [or colleague] has a right to not share the same view that you do on politics, as long as it does not lead to harassment, retaliation, or hostility in the workplace."
As part of respecting another person's point of view, Fischer adds that it's important to know that voting is very personal and that you should never ask a person who they voted for in the election. In the event that someone asks you who you voted for, she says you can politely reply back by saying, "I appreciate you asking, but I prefer to keep it to myself."
Additionally, in order to keep your vote private and respected, you should avoid celebrating or expressing your anger at work if your candidate wins or loses the race. This way, no one feels like you're purposely offending them or disrespecting them with your choice.
If you're in a situation where you feel like your political beliefs aren't being respected or you're being harassed because of a disagreeing conversation, then Fischer says you should report the incident to HR immediately so that the toxic treatment comes to an end.
"And, I always say that documentation is really important," she says, "so that you can have a record and express it to HR."
With the intensity of the election weighing on a lot of people's shoulders, Fischer says "protecting your boundaries is more important now than ever."
That's why, she says, before engaging in a political conversation you should ask yourself if you have the emotional capacity to hear someone else's political views that may differ from yours.
"Right now, the political debates that we're hearing is really about two sides standing up on their soap boxes screaming why they're right," she says. "And if you think those political conversations are standing in the way of the work you need to do, which I would imagine that in some cases they are, then that's an opportunity to really check in and say, 'Okay, how can I give myself some healthy boundaries?'"
In a lot of situations, she says, this may mean not engaging in a political conversation at all. And if you're in a meeting or on a phone call where a political topic is brought up, then you can politely say, "I respect your point of view, but I want to refocus on work."
If you're a boss who is trying to set healthy boundaries for your team, then Fischer says one way to ensure that these boundaries aren't overstepped before or after the election is to publicly make clear any company "policies and protocols in place" that deal with discussing politics at work.
When talking about politics at work, Fischer emphasizes that you should always be aware of both you and the other person's energy to ensure that things don't get too heated.
"If you feel your heart racing, your palms sweating, or a fluttering in your stomach, it's your body's way of telling you that you're in a fight or flight response," she says. "When that happens, you're no longer listening as your body is automatically sensing danger."
In that moment, Fischer says you can try to make a conscious effort to calm down or you can simply end the conversation. But, Taylor warns that the way in which you end the conversation can easily make things better or worst.
"You can say, 'I prefer not talk about it anymore,' but you can't say, 'You stupid idiot,'" he says. "Because that now takes the conversation outside of the scope of you excusing yourself and it escalates it into a negative situation."
The minute that you feel a conversation is going in the wrong direction, Taylor says you should politely tell your colleague or boss, "You know, it's clear that we see the world differently. I'm not here to convince you or to debate and I think it's best that we focus on work-related matters."
While it's easy to fall into a trap of talking about the news and politics at work, Fischer says it's important to remember that having these discussion is always a choice and we should "feel empowered to decide if we want to engage or not engage" in these conversations.