Ask the HR Pro: How Do You Handle Politics in the Workplace?

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Mid-term elections are right around the corner and change looks to be on the agenda yet again. While most seem to point to a flipped House and more divided Senate, my concern isn’t about individual races but about its impact on the workplace.

At least here in Washington state, we have a bevy of local and statewide issues to go along with the normal mid-term election of representatives. There are issues surrounding income tax and worker’s compensation insurance that will most certainly have a direct impact on workplaces here.

But at most workplaces, you’ll find there is no official discussion about the impact of these issues on the workplace. What you will find are employees huddled in a lunch room talking about it or maybe posting comments throughout the day on a website. Even the comment section for my local newspaper is heating up and here I thought nobody read that thing anymore.

What I’ve said before about workplace politics has been to be open to be political and talk about the impact of political decisions in the context of the workplace. I said in reference to a talk Laurie Ruettimann did last month:

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HR people always say they hate politics or take on this faux neutrality, but business leaders take thoughtful political stands. The good ones do it based on what’s going on in the world, analysis and thinking about the impact on their business and employees.

If a reality TV star can take a stand on a political issue, why can’t HR?

I’ve also said to use some caution when discussing political issues (especially the leadership of your company). There are dangers that I posted about earlier saying:

You need to be up front and communicate your intent with stakeholders, employees, and customers. Let them know where you stand (or if you’re choosing not to take a position), tell them why, and then let them choose. I worked for a company that had a CEO that had views that ran counter to mine but I never had a problem with it because he was up front and honest about it. If I was bothered by it, I wouldn’t have decided to join the organization. It’s a choice of priorities we all make as potential investors, employees, and consumers.

What I’ve found problematic are companies that try to hide donations or try to intimidate employees into acting in one way or another politically. The problem with both situations is that these generate stories that get easily spread and can give the organization’s reputation a serious hit.

So today I want to ask the HR pros out there: How you handle politics at your workplace? Do you think the way you handle it is the best way or do you think more or less should be done? Leave your comment below or at our LinkedIn group discussion!

Lance Haun is the practice director of strategy and insights for The Starr Conspiracy, where he focuses on researching and writing about work technology. He is also a former editor for ERE Media, broadly covering the world of human resources, recruiting, and sourcing. 
He has been featured as a work expert in publications like the Harvard Business Review, The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, MSNBC, Fast Company, and other HR and business websites.
He's based in his Vancouver, Wash., home office with his wife and adorable daughter. You can reach him by email or find him off-topic on Twitter.