Politics: one of the few remaining third rails of workplace banter and water-cooler conversation. In this politically charged environment of 2016, discussions and arguments are spilling over in the work setting more than ever before. SHRM recently polled employers regarding the 2016 election and found that more than a quarter of respondents believe this to be the most politically volatile electoral cycle in the workplace ever. Responses included: “Employees are more vocal about their opinions,” “Employees feel that the presidential candidates are more polarizing than in previous years” and “Employees appear to be more concerned in regards to their choices of candidates than in previous years.” With this growing political volatility among employees, how can companies and managers ensure they’re providing a welcoming and inclusive space for their team to work?
As a former Capitol Hill staffer and campaign operative, I have quite a bit of experience dealing with political rhetoric and feel well-qualified to lend some advice to all the managers and leaders out there looking for an answer. I’ve seen and heard political discussions that ran the spectrum of hateful, respectful, intelligent, shortsighted, and everything in between. Keeping one’s emotions in check during a political debate can be difficult and often times discussion can devolve into anger, name-calling, and personal insults. When debates like this happen in the workplace, it can lead to alienation and a feeling of exclusion among employees.
Before we jump into what you can do to keep the workplace free from political strife, let’s take a quick look at some political types I’ve encountered and ones you may have seen as well in your office.
- Fox News Frank. Frank always ask if you watched Fox News the night before and regardless of your answer, launches into a 10-minute manifesto on some conspiracy that only Sean Hannity has brought to light! Frank may also be the type to listen to podcasts on the Blaze all day.
- Mother Jones Mary. Mary is a bleeding heart liberal and may even be a big Bernie fan. She’s always emailing you articles from HuffPo or Mother Jones and gets offended at even the mention of the Donald!
- Pseudo-Intellectual Phil. Phil is typically smug about his political opinions and believes himself to be the smartest person in the room. Phil has a subscription to Foreign Affairs and The Economist and loves talking about the latest predicted coup in South America or brewing economic crisis in the Balkans.
As a manager and leader in your organization, what can you do to make sure these types of employees don’t show up in your office and make others feel uncomfortable or unwelcome?
- Have a Policy In Place. SHRM found in its survey that only 25% of private companies have a formal, written policy regarding political activity in the workplace. If it’s becoming an issue at your company, consider putting a policy in place that addresses this issue.
- Encourage Employees to Speak Up. If employees begin to have a problem or feel uncomfortable, encourage them to seek out their managers or leadership and ask for their guidance or help in rectifying the situation. If light-hearted conversations are turning into arguments consistently, you may have a problem brewing.
- Set an Example. As a leader, a lot of employee behavior is based on what your team sees you doing and saying on a daily basis. If you’re posting political comments on social media or starting discussions in the office, your employees will take that as a sign that’s okay for them to do the same. Set a great example by keeping that off of your LinkedIn page and out of the workplace.
In these divisive and heated political times, it’s natural for employees to want to speak up and extoll the merits of their preferred candidate. But, by maintaining a policy that asks your team to keep their political activity outside of the office and away from their co-workers, you can build a strong culture of inclusiveness and happiness. Don’t let this political silly season derail the great production and attitude from your team. And please, don’t let Frank, Mary, or Phil gain a big platform in your organization, no one wins there.