I don't mean to bring my political beliefs to work, but this year—and especially as of late, as the election has neared—the culture of my office (even though we're just online) has made that difficult. Most of my colleagues seem to affiliate in the same way and share many of the same beliefs and stances, and it feels like it's an assumption that all people in the office are in alignment. Well I'm not, and I don't feel comfortable sharing how I feel or what I think about issues that matter to me. If I were to speak up and say and say that I disagree with most of my office, I think I would be bullied. What should I do?
I am so glad you asked this question. Many of us grew up to believe that you don’t talk about three issues at work: race, politics, or religion. In my experience, I don't believe that to be true—I think we absolutely should talk about those issues. The trouble is that that many people don’t have the necessary communication skills to have difficult conversations that involve understanding points of view beyond their own. If employees are encouraged to bring their authentic selves to work—and workplace-culture experts believe this to be true to an even stronger magnitude under pandemic conditions—it's only natural that race, religion, and politics would all have a place in workplace dynamics. So as a key component of a person's identity, political beliefs at work indeed likely to peek out—especially amid a high-tension election season.
Part of feeling like you belong is being able to chime in on issues that matter to you, even if your viewpoint doesn’t mirror the majority. As long as you are being respectful, you should be afforded the same.
If only certain views can be conveyed while others are silenced, the workplace is simply not equitable. I believe that employees don’t always have to agree, but they should always be respectful of their colleagues. Again, I empathize with you because I felt similarly about voicing my political beliefs at work during the 2016 election cycle. But a few things helped me stay grounded:
- I didn’t take what my colleagues said personally, even if we disagreed politically.
- I learned to hear them out and asked that they hear me out if we were going to engage in a productive conversation.
- I learned to set boundaries. When I no longer felt comfortable continuing the conversation, I let them know. I would say, “We can agree to disagree.”
What gets a little tricky is when some of our colleagues talk about issues such as gun control, prison reform, and reproductive health. Those agenda items tend to be hot-button topics that can lead people to feel attacked when discussions involve different viewpoints. That's why I suggest that companies and organizations provide resources to employees to facilitate being able to have difficult conversations in the workplace while remaining respectful. To foster a workplace culture that ensures openness and trust, employers could incorporate team-building activities or conversations, so colleagues can get to know each other and are able to humanize their experiences. Employers can also be mindful to lead by example. If our leaders are not role modeling how to have inclusive conversations, then it sends a signal to the rest of the organization that healthy communication is not important.
Unfortunately, though, those resources likely aren't available to you right now, given that you don’t feel psychologically safe enough to disclose your political beliefs at work. Equally concerning is that it sounds as if you don’t have anyone in your office or virtual workspace to whom you feel comfortable articulating this discomfort.
In this case, my first piece of advice for your situation is to raise the issue with someone on your leadership team. Leaders and managers are responsible for modeling workplace culture, and it’s imperative that all employees feel like they belong at all times. Part of feeling like you belong is being able to chime in on issues that matter to you, even if your viewpoint doesn’t mirror the majority. As long as you are being respectful, then you should also be afforded that same level of respect. No employee should feel penalized at work for supporting, Joe Biden, Donald Trump, Kayne West, or anyone else. We don’t have to agree on who should lead this country, but work should be a safe space to vocalize your support without backlash.
I also believe that it’s okay for you to convey to your colleagues that you aren’t comfortable discussing certain topics and ask for them to respect your choice to bow out of certain conversations. By articulating your stance of not participating in topics like political affiliation, you are setting boundaries. I think that when your colleagues respect your boundaries—even if they sadly don't respect your opinions—you will feel like your voice is heard.
Minda Harts is the author of the best-selling book The Memo: What Women of Color Need To Know To Secure A Seat At The Table. She is the CEO of The Memo LLC and an Adjunct Professor at NYU Wagner. She hosts a podcast and LinkedIn Live Show called Secure The Seat. Minda lives in New York and has a French bulldog named Boston. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and sign up for her newsletter here.
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