Special Election Edition

Resources on talking about politics in the workplace

Mister Editorial
8 min readOct 9, 2020
“Election Day” by Norman Rockwell

🗳️ Welcome to a special edition of Mister Editorial.

First, some news and updates…

On to election matters…

  • We forget that working in the White House is also a job. As with any organization, Internal Communications (IC) must ensure that employees are clear with what is expected of them, especially during a Covid-19 outbreak.
  • IC doesn’t just happen, even in the most powerful office in the world.
  • Axios has the story on what happened when Mark Meadows, White House Chief of Staff, failed to communicate with his employees on when, where, and how to work when coworkers are diagnosed with coronavirus.

In this special edition:

  1. An Electorate on Edge
  2. Should We Even Discuss Politics in the Workplace?
  3. How Some Companies Are Allowing Workers to Participate in the Election
  4. The Role of Internal Comms in Managing Political Discussions in the Workplace
  5. Resources for Voting, Civic Engagement, and Corporate Responsibility

1. An Electorate on Edge

“Election Day” by Norman Rockwell

The 2020 presidential election — already underway in many parts of the country — will be contentious no matter who wins by how much.

  • Democrats and Republicans are already claiming the other side is cheating, casting doubt on the credibility of the vote. (Never mind the very real threat of interference from China and Russia.)

Votes will be counted for weeks after November 3. Americans can expect to be living and working at heightened levels of uncertainty and anxiety.

  • If President Trump loses, it’s conceivable that he won’t peacefully concede power, that his diehard supporters and armed militias will take to the streets to defend him, or both. In short, this could get very ugly.
  • We have no fail-safe against the calamity,” writes Barton Gellman for The Atlantic.

Constitutional scholars, military brass, jurists, and political operatives may be unprepared for worst-case scenarios, which is why it’s so important that businesses be ready to manage the conversation, debate, and fallout at work.

  • Why? The workplace is one of the few places Americans regularly visit outside their bubbles.
  • Coworkers from different backgrounds, persuasions, and experiences must co-exist…or else the business fails.

Like it or not, employees are talking about the election now and many will obsess over the results long past November 3.

2. Should We Even Discuss Politics in the Workplace?

“Endless Debate” by Norman Rockwell

It’s natural to want to joke, vent, and cheer about politics with your coworkers. After all, we spend 40+ hours each week with each other — conversation about what’s happening in the world is a social lubricant.

But politics is personal, which can make discussing it at work tricky.

  • Employee handbooks generally don’t explicitly disallow talk about politics, just like they’ve never prohibited discussion about pop culture, sports, the quality of local schools, Christmas gift ideas, and other quotidian topics.

Sex and religion are generally recognized as taboo work topics, explicitly stated or not.

  • Should politics and the highly charged 2020 presidential election similarly be muted?

The workplace is kind of a neutral space, a place many Americans visit physically and virtually on a daily basis. Work is also often the only place that’s outside their “bubble,” because the employer hires people of different backgrounds and experiences to fill all sorts of roles.

  • Shouldn’t political discussion be allowed (and even supported) in the workplace because it is a place where different personalities and persuasions come together?
  • But…the last thing people want is to work in a place where they feel assaulted, belittled, or ostracized for any beliefs, politics included.

A 2019 survey from the Society of Human Resource Management found:

  • More than 1/3 of American workers say their workplace is not inclusive of differing political opinions
  • 42% have experienced political disagreements at work
  • 12% have experienced bias because of their political affiliation

3. How Some Companies Are Allowing Employees to Participate in the Election

“The Circus Barker” by Norman Rockwell

“Don’t buy GOODYEAR TIRES…” scream-tweeted President Trump when he learned that Goodyear banned MAGA apparel in their workplace.

  • In a slide labeled “Zero Tolerance” that was presented to employees at their Topeka, KS facility, Goodyear explained what was appropriate and inappropriate in terms of political attire.
  • “Black Lives Matter” and “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Pride” were considered acceptable. Listed under the “unacceptable” section were “Blue Lives Matter,” “All Lives Matter,” “MAGA Attire” and “Political Affiliated Slogans or Material.”
  • Goodyear issued a statement: “To be clear on our longstanding corporate policy, Goodyear has zero tolerance for any forms of harassment or discrimination. To enable a workplace environment free of those, we ask that associates refrain from workplace expressions in support of political campaigning for any candidate or political party, as well as similar forms of advocacy that fall outside the scope of racial justice and equity issues.”
  • Two days later Goodyear backtracked — or clarified — depending on your spin, saying that its employees could wear apparel expressing their support for law enforcement.

🗳️ A host of companies are giving workers time off to vote.

  • Patagonia shuts down on election day and pays employees for the full day.
  • Farmers Insurance gives employees up to two hours of paid time to vote.
  • Levi Strauss is giving employees paid time off to vote.
  • Twitter, Autodesk, Uber, La Colombe, Kaiser Permanente, Morgan Stanley, Stonyfield Organic, Walmart, and 1,400+ other firms have signed the Time to Vote pledge, which encourages companies to make time for employees to vote.

📢 Paid subscribers to Mister Editorial get access to exclusive content, such as:

Subscribe here.

4. The Role of Internal Comms in Managing Political Discussions in the Workplace

“Freedom of Speech” by Norman Rockwell

Internal Comms is in a unique position to foster inclusive, thoughtful, and civil discourse between opposing political views at work.

  • IC sits at the nexus of the C-suite, HR, PR, and Diversity & Inclusion, all of whom have an opinion (and possibly a policy) on how, where, and when employees can discuss socio-political issues at work.

Stifling or ignoring political conversations is a non-starter. Employees are going to converse in sanctioned and unsanctioned forums, channels, and groups no matter what.

Creating space for civil debate is the role of people operations like HR and D&I.

  • They’ll (hopefully) use best practices about keeping things open, civil, and inclusive.

It’s up to Internal Comms to:

  • Share with employees the right places (e.g., town halls) and channels (e.g., dedicated Yammer chat rooms) to discuss politics and the election.
  • Moderate discussions and commenting.
  • Capture in-person or video conference conversations on video and audio, with photography and transcriptions or notes to supplement. For discussions that happen in chatrooms, download the transcript (or copy the text).
  • Publish the results of the discussions to the intranet, newsletter, and other main news channels.
  • Distribute the recaps, quotes, stories, videos, media, calls-to-action, and other relevant tasks and ideas to the entire employee base to foster transparency.
  • Gather feedback through qualitative and quantitative means.
  • Report to senior and cross-functional stakeholders the results of the engagements.
  • Repeat.

In your next newsletter or intranet article about how to talk about the election at work, take a page from this HBR article. Among coworkers engaging each other on a contentious political topic, remember to:

  • Weigh the consequences. Is it worth getting into a debate with someone you work with every day? Is it better to bite your tongue and move on? Or do you see a real opening for a healthy debate?
  • Take the opportunity. You probably won’t change minds, but you can use the moment to at least get your point of view understood. Aim to leave with more empathy for the opposing position.
  • Be genuinely curious. Don’t belittle, demean, or degrade someone’s point of view. Ask questions so you can understand how they came to their position.
  • Be respectful. No insults or attacks on character, please.
  • Seek common ground and take action. Could the two of you work together to amend a company policy? Or could you agree on a cause or a volunteer opportunity that both sides could support?
  • Deflect or disengage. If you don’t think you can keep your cool, walk away.

5. Resources for Voting, Civic Engagement, and Corporate Responsibility

“Which One?” by Norman Rockwell

Sara Forner Howland (@SFHowland) shares Brilliant Ink’s Voting and Civic Engagement Resource Center, which includes the following resources:

  • Key 2020 dates
  • Resources and tools for IC and HR, like “Four Ways Businesses Can Create an Environment That Encourages Employees to Vote”
  • Employee engagement and responsibility, like “Employer Obligations on Election Day”
  • Company resources and samples, like a statement from Levi Strauss on why employees should vote
  • Information and resources for employees, such as info on how to vote from home
  • Civic engagement opportunities, such as how to volunteer to be a poll worker

Access Brilliant Ink’s election resource center here.

Other election-related resources:

  • Podcast: Bob Feldman, founder of the Dialogue Project and vice chair of ICF Next, shares how hyper-polarization has affected civil discourse in America.
  • Corporate resource: Time To Vote is a nonpartisan, business-led initiative to help ensure employees across America don’t have to choose between voting and earning a paycheck.
  • Webinar: Integral Communications hosted a conversation between Bob Feldman (The Dialogue Project) and Elizabeth Owen (Levi Strauss & Co.) about the upcoming 2020 election and how companies can better support their employees through it.
  • The Dialogue Project: A research effort that explores what role business can play to improve civil discourse and reduce polarization. It is supported by companies like Google, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Chevron, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Southwest Airlines, among others, as well as the University of Southern California.



Mister Editorial

Many internal comms teams don’t have an editorial strategy. I’m here to fix that. Newsletter: https://mistereditorial.substack.com/.