No matter how hard HR departments try, they can never eliminate political discussions from the workplace. With government policies affecting both the personal and professional lives of employees, these debates will continue. They’re bound to get more heated during campaign periods. How can employers ensure these discussions don’t threaten organizational harmony?
How to Maintain a Civil Political Atmosphere at Work
According to a 2017 survey by the APA, 57% of Americans cited the prevailing political atmosphere as a source of stress. The following tips will help HR managers prevent political uncertainty from adversely affecting employee productivity:
1) Maintain Political Ambiguity
Although organizations are free to endorse political candidates and parties, it’s advisable to keep these preferences private. Picking sides is bound to alienate a section of employees who support the opposing side. Some customers could also take offense with the company’s political stance and stop doing business with it. The best option is to accommodate the varying political views of stakeholders, so long as they’re reasonable.
2) Create Policies On Acceptable Debates
Employees of public sector firms are protected by First Amendment rights, which guarantee free speech. Their employers can’t limit workplace discussions, including political debates. Although private companies are also expected to respect their employees’ free speech rights, they can issue guidelines on sensitive topics. Before doing so, it’s advisable to seek the opinion of HR representatives and company attorneys.
3) Focus On Shared Values
Heated political debates are more likely to highlight differences among employees. By placing more emphasis on common goals, the company will bring them closer despite their divergent opinions. Managers can come up with team-building activities and fun targets that everyone can identify with. The satisfaction of working together towards a long term shared objective will ultimately trump minor political wrangles.
4) Lead from The Front
Decisive leaders should be ready to step in whenever political discussions get too heated. If the atmosphere is adversely affecting overall employee output, the management should address it before it snowballs into a bigger problem. They can do so by encouraging feedback and suggestions from affected stakeholders. Managers should lead by example and follow company guidelines on political discussions.
The affected parties should also play an essential role in creating solutions. Disciplinary action might have to be taken against specific employees who repeatedly harass coworkers and engage in other uncivil behavior.
5) Address Behaviors Rather Than Political Beliefs
If a company tries to encourage or discourage political views, it will be infringing on its employees’ right to free speech. Such interference might create further discord and potentially result in lawsuits from aggrieved parties. The solution is to focus on certain general behaviors. For example, while engaging in any discussion, participants should desist from invading the other party’s personal space. They should also refrain from activities that could be interpreted as bullying, harassment, or intimidation.
6) Encourage Respectful Exchanges
Most political arguments get out of hand when one party feels like their cherished beliefs are being taken for granted. Instead of viewing debates as a contest, employees should see them as an opportunity to learn more about their opponents’ opinions. They should also seek to understand the personal and professional experiences that shape such views. Such accommodating behavior will breed tolerance, which will ultimately spread across the entire organization.
Political debates at work are not always easy to moderate. That doesn’t mean management should allow an anything-goes attitude. By enacting fair but firm policies on employee behavior, organizations can avoid unwanted outcomes. Consistent review and implementation of favorable feedback through the HR department will result in the timely realization of long term company objectives.