There’s no denying that we live in politically turbulent times. At least one recent study indicates Americans may be more polarized than ever. Inevitably, this is going to affect the experiences people have at work.
This isn’t speculation. According to surveys, American employees feel political arguments in the workplace have become more heated in recent years. Surveys also indicate the average worker finds such discussions stressful.
HR professionals can take steps to prevent this type of stress from having a negative impact on morale and engagement. This isn’t always a simple goal to achieve. On the surface, it may make sense to simply prohibit political discussions at work. However, this might not be the most effective way to cultivate a workplace culture in which people feel they have the freedom to express their opinions.
That doesn’t mean there’s no solution to this problem. The best way to address political division will vary from one organization to another. Fortunately, these key tips will help you create an environment in which employees feel comfortable with their political differences.
Set Reasonable Expectations
Simply forbidding employees from discussing politics in the office isn’t necessarily the best way to address everyone’s needs and feelings. On the other hand, you do need to establish certain guidelines and restrictions. This will ensure political discussions don’t cause unnecessary stress for anyone.
That’s why it’s helpful to develop a company policy regarding how and when employees can discuss these topics at work. Organize an informational/training session to make sure all workers are familiar with it.
The specific nature of your policy will be determined by many factors. In general, though, you should emphasize the importance of being respectful when sharing political beliefs.
Let workers know they are free to state their feelings. However, they cannot attack others’ beliefs or engage in debates so frequently they distract their coworkers. Employees who are uncomfortable with these topics should also make a point of excusing themselves from such conversations when they arise.
Additionally, it’s important for everyone in the office to appreciate that different people have different feelings about political discussions. Some discuss these topics eagerly and passionately. Others don’t enjoy talking about politics at all.
Make sure employees know people aren’t being ignorant or disrespectful if they say they would rather not have a political discussion. Everyone should feel comfortable refusing to discuss the topic if they would prefer not to.
Be an Example
Managers and executives serve as role models for other employees. That’s why leading by example is so important.
HR can help by coordinating with managers to ensure they all understand how to best deal with political topics in the office. It’s also important for managers to be familiar with any applicable laws. For example, governmental or nonprofit entities may have certain requirements that must be adhered to by law.
Other employers have been penalized because managers who disagreed with certain employees’ political beliefs retaliated (for example, by giving them fewer sales leads). You want to avoid these practices. You also want to know managers understand the importance of discussing politics respectfully. Their behavior will serve as an example for other employees.
Consider What to Restrict
Once more, your policy regarding political discussions in the workplace will need to have some restrictions. For instance, you obviously want to let employees know a political discussion that devolves into harassment will not be tolerated. That said, you might also want to consider additional restrictions if they feel best for your workforce.
Perhaps employees at your company tend to have many emails to read and respond to throughout the day. Allowing coworkers to clutter up inboxes even more by sending political stories or memes via company email might not be in your best interests. Additionally, political discussions conducted over email don’t give people the chance to connect face-to-face. This can make it harder for them to understand other points of view.
This isn’t to say all companies should discourage employees from talking politics over email. It’s simply encouraging you to honestly evaluate whether such a guideline would be appropriate for your organization. It’s also worth noting that you can always amend the company’s official policy if you notice issues persist after it’s been enacted.
Either way, politics isn’t something HR professionals can ignore. Surveys and studies confirm it. In politically divisive times, the impact of political discussions on worker engagement and satisfaction can be significant. You don’t want to silence your employees completely. However, you do want to make sure they are able to discuss these issues with respect. These tips will help.