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Can you talk about politics at work?

Jason Ennor, Co-founder and CEO at MyHR
by, Jason Ennor, Co-founder and CEO at MyHR

We’re almost at the end of one of the most closely fought and engaging elections in New Zealand for a long time. Sadly, we are still suffering from low voter registration in some key demographics, which is a problem faced by many democracies.

I think one of the issues is the old-school attitude that politics a taboo subject and should not be talked about. This is the sort of thing my parents or grandparents would say, frankly it comes from another era. It has entrenched itself in workplaces and even made its way into written policies.

Social media has helped open discussion up and we can extend this to work too. Let’s engage in this democracy and engage our young people to vote.

From an HR perspective, be aware of these things:

  • Don’t force people to participate in the conversation, it is a personal decision and they do not have to share if they don’t want to. Respect this decision.
  • Do not discriminate against or harass anybody because of political views.
  • Be sensitive to others; some topics are very challenging and can cause heated debate.
  • Respect people’s opinions.

In short: keep it legal, be mature and don’t be a dick. If people struggle with these basic principles they might have bigger issues, discussing politics is not the problem.

Provided you can handle this, you can and should talk freely about politics at work. Engage people in the democracy in which we live. This develops a well-rounded, informed view and such discourse is critical to the process.

In our office, we have a diverse range of views, one of my staff is a volunteer for the Labour Party while others are clearly all blue. A few are still undecided.

We debate most things: the merits (or otherwise) of Labour’s proposed employment law changes, National’s track-record, Green’s leadership capitulation, Gareth Morgan’s tax policy and Winston’s divisive attacks.

The result is an informed group of people. We have many laughs and there is plenty of emotion.

One of our young people was not going to vote at all, and now intends to. If talking about politics at our work has increased voter turnout by one young person, then I think it’s been a successful few months of discussion.

And yes, we have some who politely sit by and choose not to say anything, which is totally fine.

So, watch out for those conservative HR managers who want to write policies against this. There really isn’t a need to create a rule that stifles democratic engagement: get talking and get voting!

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