Welcome to the Circus, HR

Mark Fogel employee experience, Engagement and Satisfaction, Free Speech, in the news, Mark Fogel, Office Politics

HR, welcome to the proverbial circus of politics in the coming year. HR and Talent folks will be hard pressed to  ignore the firestorm created by our politicians in our country the past few months. It hit a crescendo this past week as Presidential Impeachment proceedings  took center stage. We always have been dealing with politics, specifically legislation and to a lesser extent court decisions and regulatory agency activities.

But the coming year is different. Politics is now out of the proverbial closet.

Politics has become as polarizing as how we feel about our favorite sports team. We used to wear our favorite game day team colors to work – you know, the matching, top, tie or scarf with your college team on it. Now that has been replaced with your “true colors” of political affiliation and beliefs. Employees often dig in and are unwilling or able to see the other side and are now voicing their feelings and beliefs at work.

Recently I was consulting at a client when an employee walked in with a “F” the president t-shirt. The client’s HR executive was in the room and said nothing. In my day running HR functions, I would have marched the person down to my office, had a conversation and sent them home to change into something a little less controversial. However, this is a different time and place in America and as the saying goes “the best is yet to come”, or maybe the most challenging and controversial is yet to come.

For context lets take a moment to review some politics impacting HR. Depending on the majority party in office, the President and congress make congressional appointments to court judges at the federal level. The same occurs with state and local government with your local legislators. One only must go to the SHRM or HRCI body of knowledge to understand the impact of judicial decisions on public policy. Can you say, “Roe vs Wade”? How about LGBQ rights in some states?

Our legislators have created ACA and a host of laws  that we live in compliance with and are beholden to every day. Title Seven, ADEA, ADA, FMLA, FLSA, COBRA….the list goes on and on.

These are all givens that we sway back and forth with as we create, execute and train employees on policies and procedures in our respective organizations. When shifts occur, we shift with them. In the past the politics mattered, but we all found a way to get along.

But 2020 is going to potentially be very different. Employees and candidates are open about their politics today. We have already seen the backlash with SHRM’s CEO a year ago and that was only the tip of the iceberg. That was also our own HR community divided. Fortunately, it was in our own house and we were able to contain it. HR is now front and center to employees at all organizations. Your employees are not only talking politics, they are watching you to see how HR is going to model behavior.

What is a practitioner to do when members of leadership or even your C-Suite speak out publicly about anything political? The springtime of 2020 brings endorsement season for politicians. And folks with money (many of your leaders) give money to political parties and specific candidates. What do you do when the politics of your leaders become the headline at your water cooler?

It would be easy to just say you’re not getting involved. Good luck with that….

Can we be inclusive when we are personally positioned on one side of issues impacting our entire nation? I doubt it. And more importantly, we are charged with helping to shape “inclusive” environments in the workplace. How can we do that given the dynamics?

Normally I would lay out four or five steps we should take to address a pressing issue. With this one I have ideas that may just not fly in many organizations. One idea is to have your folks leave all politics at home. Make the office a “No politics” safe zone for all. Ask folks to abstain from wearing anything controversial, bringing any materials into the office, or talk about politics. The only problem with that is our First amendment freedom of speech concept would be severely compromised. Add to this a trip to the employee parking lot where bumper stickers, hats on windowsills and other paraphernalia abound.

And then there is the social media issue. Many employees are very outspoken on Facebook and other sites about there viewpoints. Good luck with that too.

HR should not have to play judge or referee on this, but I am afraid we are going to have to.

So, I am for once at a loss for words. I do know that we must try our best to create safe working environments, uphold policies, and model values and ethics. How we do that successfully is a work in progress at best and a question mark for most.

If you have thoughts in how HR should play this let us know….

Wishing you all a happy and healthy new year….I’ll be back next year to check in and see how your all doing!