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Talking Politics

Posted by Ilena Di Toro | Posted on May 3, 2016

The presidential election will take place this year. Numerous candidates are campaigning for their party’s nomination for President of the United States. Supporters and detractors are already putting in their two cents, both in the form of public opinion and monetary donation. Of course, the position of President isn’t the only political office up for grabs. Positions such as senator and city councilperson/county commissioner will be contested as well. Passions can be just as high with smaller races as they are with larger ones!

Sooner or later, talk of politics and candidates will come into the office, either from employees or patients and they will state their views in no uncertain terms. Since politics can be such a divisive issue, what’s the right thing to do if you want to maintain harmony in the office?

A lot depends on who is doing the talking. Obviously, there are differences between employees discussing political issues and patients discussing issues with you. Discretion must be used to determine the best way to respond in both situations.

Can the practice owner or manager decree that political talk is verboten? Probably not, because politics also touches on issues of race, gender, religion. Efforts to ban political talk can be see as discriminatory and be grounds for a lawsuit.

What employers can do is to enforce other rules. There’s the option of ensuring that information access via the Internet and email are to be used for business purposes only. That way, if someone uses the office computer to follow a candidate’s social media messages, they can be corrected for their action, not their intent.

In addition, the owner/manager has to be careful of his or her political views, as well. Think that inviting employees to a candidate’s forum or a municipal meeting will be a good team building experience? Think again. Employees may see this as a not so subtle sign that the boss is dictating who or what they should vote for and this can invite a lawsuit, as well.

And what about ‘water cooler’ talk about what the president said during the State of the Union speech or what a candidate said during a campaign stop? This requires some finesse. While a little chit-chat helps to make day at the office go by more smoothly, you don’t want the chit-chat to develop into a shouting match between conflicting viewpoints. If the talk stays at the chit-chat level, you have nothing to worry about. If things get heated, it is best to remind those involved that this is a medical office and we wouldn’t judge or berate a patient for having a political view different than our own. Therefore, we should afford the same courtesy to a co-worker.

In many ways, dealing with patients is easier than employees, since you only see them every so often. If they should come around during an election year, here are some tips on how to deal with patients:

Be noncommittal—Listen quietly as the patient goes on and on about how great Candidate X is or how XYZ policy is the worst ever. Be an attentive, engaged listener, but don’t contribute your own views to the conversation.

Get back to the exam—Gently remind the patient that you need to get on with the eye exam. It’s out of courtesy to other patients that you have to move on with the exam, and they should understand that.

What about campaign literature or flyers?—While you think that accepting the brochure/button/sign is just being polite, your office staff might not think the same way. State that while you would love to take the item, but it is your policy not to bring politics into the practice, because it can be a distraction from providing the proper care for patients.

In closing, to ensure workplace tranquility, limit the political talk. It can often do more harm than good at work.


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