Why politics (does not) belong in the workplace


Worldwide, a resurgence of nationalist ideologies can be observed. Populist and far-right worldviews are becoming visible on the political and social stage and are sometimes intensely debated. However, while some welcome the integration of political discussions in the workplace, there are also voices that view this with skepticism. Should companies really take on political responsibility, or should they focus on their core business objectives?

By Rebecca Jennerjahn

This article examines the role of politics in the workplace and argues that openness, tolerance, and the ability to compromise are crucial for business success. Taking a clear stance and engaging with sensitive, politically charged issues seems essential—after all, these topics already dominate the thoughts and everyday conversations of most people and, therefore, employees. The question is not so much whether politics should have a role in the workplace, but rather how companies manage to create the necessary conditions (e.g., skills, organizational structures, and processes) to promote effective dialogue (Winters, 2017).


Companies as political actors

Companies are more than just economic organizations – they are integral parts of our society. As employers, taxpayers, lobbyists and innovators, they are closely linked to the common good in socio-political terms and can ultimately be described as political actors (Bohnen, 2020). As economic actors, companies do not act in “[…] a vacuum, but in a social and political context that [they] de facto help shape.” (Bohnen & Hennies, 2022). Companies therefore not only have democratic rights, but also the duty and responsibility to maintain and strengthen democratic values.

Against the backdrop of the growing influence of anti-democratic movements, the question of companies’ political engagement is becoming increasingly important. How much politics should be allowed in the workplace and what risks and opportunities does political discourse in the workplace entail? Answers to this question are provided by the concept of Corporate Political Responsibility (CPR), which was coined by Dr. Johannes Bohnen. It emphasizes the importance of corporate political engagement for the common good and the responsibility of companies to maintain and strengthen the democratically constituted society that makes their activities possible. Since, according to Bohnen (2020), the stability of democracies lies in the freedom to hold open debates on socially relevant decisions that make the diversity of opinions visible in the public sphere and thus also enable innovation, it is only logical and necessary for companies to cultivate a lively culture of debate.

A common argument against consciously taking a political stance or positioning oneself on basic political attitudes is that political influence or party political work distracts from organizational core competencies and thwarts the company’s main objective – to generate value for its shareholders. However, this argument wrongly equates a clear political commitment to democratic principles with political activism and party politics. The legitimate goal of every company to ensure its economic survival and prosperity should not be denied at this point. However, the assumption of political responsibility by companies in no way contradicts an increase in company value. On the contrary: “Those who have acquired a high brand reputation by consistently strengthening the public sphere are building up capital. […] A politically sustainable corporate culture helps to secure economic substance. Shareholders with long-term investment horizons in particular must be interested in this.” (Bohnen, 2020) Furthermore, the argument neglects the fact that political developments can have a significant impact on companies. The rise of far-right tendencies creates social tensions and uncertainties that also affect the economy. Companies must therefore actively participate in political discussions in order to defend their interests and mitigate negative economic consequences.


The importance of a culture of democratic debate in the workplace

If we look at the concept of politics in a broader sense, then politics is essentially about the process of decision-making, interaction and the creation of rules and structures within a community. For example, the coming together of individuals in companies that set rules for living and working together as a (working) community can also be described as a political process. Described as a microcosm of society, the same social dynamics and processes take place in companies as in the society in which they are embedded – just on a smaller scale. Consequently, democratic exchange formats and an open culture of debate in the workplace are just as crucial for strengthening plurality and diversity of perspectives within the company and for ensuring sustainable (economic) success.

Organizations should therefore create a space in which employees can freely express their opinions without fear of reprisals or discrimination. As Haskins pointed out back in 1996, freedom of expression can help members of an organization feel empowered. Such a culture of psychological safety not only promotes innovation and creativity, but also strengthens the sense of belonging and identification with the company (Unger, Sann & Martin, 2022). Companies that allow different points of view and ideas and actively promote (political) discourse are better able to respond to change and develop innovative solutions (Edmondson, 2018). Such diversity not only helps to strengthen the company, but ultimately also contributes to the stability and resilience of society as a whole (Peters & Bauer, 2024), which in turn provides a secure framework with all the necessary degrees of freedom for successful economic activity.


From expressions of concern to action: The road to political openness in the workplace

Promoting diversity of opinion and embedding a culture of political debate within the company requires a systematic commitment and a targeted strategy. Both HR and management have a major responsibility to ensure that work is free of racism and populism (McDonald, 2022; Bohnen & Hennies, 2022). Employees must not only be given the feeling that freedom of expression is generally permitted, but that it is also strongly supported and encouraged by all levels of management (Haskins, 1996).

In order to strengthen the importance of freedom of expression, mere expressions of concern or statements on the current political situation are not (or no longer) effective. Instead, concrete measures and active action are needed. This includes creating an open and respectful working environment, establishing exchange formats and open discussion forums as well as promoting intercultural competence, the ability to compromise and diversity management (Bohnen & Hennies, 2022; Peters & Bauer, 2024). In order to create the necessary basic conditions for a constructive (political) exchange, i.e. an environment in which all employees feel safe to express their opinions freely, training to strengthen psychological safety in teams is a good idea. In addition, training for employees and managers on sensitive topics such as hate speech, conspiracy narratives or targeted disinformation is important to promote a respectful culture of discussion (Business Council for Democracy, 2024). In addition, the creation of a knowledge database that is independently maintained by employees (e.g. with podcasts, videos and publications on political topics) can actively promote the exchange of information and opinions.

However, external initiatives can also help to anchor the topic of politics and political engagement in the corporate discourse. This can be done, for example, by supporting initiatives – financially or by providing resources – that are committed to political education and engagement. Releasing employees for political engagement outside the company can also help to promote a culture of open debate and strengthen the socio-political engagement of the entire organization.




Overall, it is clear that an open culture of political discussion in the workplace is not only a sign of democracy and freedom of expression, but can also make a significant contribution to strengthening the company and society. Companies that actively promote openness, tolerance and diversity are not only economically more successful, but also more socially relevant and sustainable – not least because they can counteract a shortage of employees or skilled workers in terms of employer branding.