A few weeks ago, a survey from the American Psychological Association (APA) was released that indicated the race for presidency was stressing U.S. workers and hurting business productivity. Well, that was then. And this is now.
Following the November 8th presidential election, a range of emotions have run rampant throughout the workplace. From grief and disbelief, to gloating and glee, companies are finding employees at odds with the outcomes and their own colleagues. A contentious election has given rise to an even more volatile working environment in some spaces – leaving human resources professionals running for cover and seeking guidance from legal counsel to peer associations.
Walking A Fine Line
Classified as a protected concerted activity by the National Labor Relations Board, political discussions cannot be stifled in the workplace. However, should this type of conversation leads to addressing candidate platforms and positions that could be construed as discriminatory or harassment, it should not, by any means, be tolerated.
As HR Departments struggle with this dichotomy, and managers deal with the fallout from the election results, keeping the peace among teams is integral to maintaining productivity in the workplace. So, the question then becomes, how to approach a sensitive topic such as politics, and placate peers without alienating anyone? The answer…you don’t.
Managing Politically Charged Discussions at Work
- Avoid the Topic: You can dance around the issue or just evade the subject of politics completely by concentrating on the tasks at hand. Keep your team focused on projects and expected outcomes. If they’re passionate about their candidate, they can be just as zealous about their work. The best way to progress past this time is to keep moving forward.
- Minimize Social Media: This election was driven by the media, and social networks were a primary vehicle for news, contemplation, and instigation. However, it’s done and over with. Now is the time to reinforce company-wide social media and internet usage policies as outlined in your employee handbook. Engage in projects, not social networking.
- Teambuilding: You strive for a collaborative working environment, and now is an opportune time to emphasize the collected importance each member of your team. Strengthen these bonds and encourage teambuilding that works towards a shared goal. Refocus attention away from politics and onto communal objectives.
- Respect: The last thing you want to do is point out a colleague’s disregard for another. Be proactive about addressing the need for a respectful and courteous workplace. Help your employees recognize the varied views and emotions that may exist, and to be considerate of other people’s feelings to prevent an unwanted heated debate.
Numbers Don’t Lie
While some companies will continue to hide behind the notion of peaceful coexistence, the fact is, discussions of politics do take place in the workplace and hinder efficiencies.
The aforementioned APA survey found that 1 in 4 U.S. employees had been negatively affected by political talk prior to the election – resulting in stress and diminished productivity. With close to half of the employees surveyed discussing politics in the workplace, and a small but significant number of whom reported a more negative view of coworkers, they indicated that they felt more isolated from them, and that team cohesiveness has suffered. SHRM also conducted a recent survey that revealed 72% of HR professionals indicated that their organizations discouraged political activities in the workplace; yet the majority, 67%, reported that they did not have policy in place for addressing these activities should they occur.
As we look beyond the election results and await a new administration in January, we’re likely to see a renewed interest in political discussions escalate post-inauguration. HR departments and managers should prepare for this next wave of psychological implications and emotionally-driven debate that could follow, and inevitably increase tension in the workplace.