POLITICS IN THE WORKPLACE

As we prepare to round out the year, I think it’s safe to say that we have learned a lot about human nature over the past months. We’ve experienced a lot and are fervently working to ensure that our work environments are successful.  This includes staying abreast of workplace trends and I’ve noticed that topics that were once taboo in the workplace have become more prevalent.  A question I receive from managers is “How to address politics in the workplace?”  As we attempt to move beyond the 2020 presidential election, inevitably, there will be perceived division, lingering feelings, thoughts and reactions that if left to fester, could have unwanted implications.

According to Diversity Best Practices, SHRM’s 2019 Politics at Work survey found political conversations in the workplace are increasing and causing conflict among employees:

  • 56 percent of employees say the discussion of political issues has become more common in the past four years
  • 44 percent have witnessed political disagreements in the workplace
  • 42 percent have personally experienced political disagreements in the workplace
  • 34 percent say their workplace is not inclusive of differing political perspectives
  • 12 percent of employees have personally experienced political affiliation bias

 

Courageous Conversations in the Workplace

A suggestion is to have frank discussions around some of the issues causing discord in the workplace.  However, it is not the easiest or most comfortable response. We spend more waking hours engaging with our work colleagues than we do our families.  It is an interesting dichotomy, because we are expected to be innovative, inclusive and productive in the workplace. However, working with individuals with differing experiences and opinions can become contentious.  This can be especially true during highly volatile periods in society such as presidential elections. When opinions are shared in an unproductive manner, such as negative body language, attire that demonstrates support for any political party and negative comments, it becomes a much larger problem that affects morale and productivity. 

Proactively creating a safe space for authentic conversations can be helpful. This can be demonstrated by allowing employees the opportunity to understand that it is okay to disagree with each other, while making it clear that civility and respect for others are not negotiable in the workplace. It also positions HR and other leaders to create equitable policies and procedures concerning trends and issues that are revealed during the sessions. 

Creating an environment for courageous conversations require a plan of action, as open dialogue about divisive topics can take a negative turn pretty quickly.  These types of forums must have the right person or team of  people to  effectively guide the process in a way that  diffuses conflict as it arises.  These are individuals who are aware of their personal biases and can move past them, have proven facilitation skills and if they are internal, have earned a high level of trust within the organization. At the end of the sessions, the goal is to have positive changes to workplace behavior.

Below are additional tools and suggestions for addressing politics in the workplace from Glassdoor.com

Do

  1. Know Your Audience.
    Before launching into a conversation about politics at work, it’s best to do a check-in with those around you to see if your colleagues are willing to have a light conversation. Get a clear sense of who you’re engaging with and make the conversation optional.
  2. Engage in Curious Dialogue
    Approach the conversation with genuine curiosity, instead of looking for an argument. If you’re trying to start a conversation with a colleague whose perspective you know to be different than your own, come from a place of curiosity. Consider saying, “I know we’re probably on opposite sides of the issue, and I’m really curious about what you think.”
  3. Politely Leave Tense Conversations
    If you are wary of political conversations or if you sense that a conversation is veering off course, it’s important to have a palette of language that you can use to exit conversations you don’t want to participate in. Consider saying, “I’ve put myself on a news break. I need to step away sometimes as it’s refreshing to get a hiatus.” Alternatively, you can say, “This is an important conversation, but I’m not sure it’s right for me.”

Politely leave conversations that you don’t want to be involved in, and respect others’ needs as well, especially if you know that a colleague is not open to these kinds of conversations. Respect is the key to making this work.

  1. Focus On Common Ground
    While you and your co-workers may not always agree on politics, you probably have core values that you share. Get back to those basics that bind you together. While you may not agree on the party or candidate that you support, you may find common ground on your shared support of Veterans, for example. Work with your colleagues on a project that reminds you that you’re all in this together. Because, despite your differences, you are.

Don’t

  1. Allow Derogatory or Disrespectful Comments
    Politics can be a very hot topic this year, however, it is completely possible to have a conversation that is respectful and honest without it becoming nasty. If you are going to engage in a political conversation at work, keep the conversation respectful and do not engage in slander, derogatory language or disrespectful comments.

If a disagreement turns into personalized attacks, the best course of action is to try saying something like, “The tone of the conversation is not appropriate for work and it’s no longer heading in a good direction. Let’s get back to work.”

  1. Use Work Communication Tools to Promote Your Political Beliefs
    In the era of Slack, Google Hangouts and Jive, it can be easy to share an article about the upcoming election or your favorite (or not so favorite) candidate. However, this can be problematic for your colleagues. Creating a safe and secure work environment is paramount, and political conversations on the company Slack channel can make team members feel alienated or attacked.
  2. Demonize the Opposing Views
    Politics can be very personal, and many people tend to hold tight to their beliefs. However, when emotions run high it’s imperative not to demean or vilify those who may hold views that differ from yours. There are consequences to alienating your colleagues who you work with every day. After all, any conversation or behavior that distracts from productivity and cohesion doesn’t belong at the office.

As leaders, we must have tenacity for creating inclusive and equitable work environments, continue to persevere and not settle for complacency. This is especially true when we’ve made the decision to  accept the messiness and discomfort of embracing and leveraging differences. Determination is a requirement for success, let’s demonstrate in every area of our work.

Takiyah Cunningham, M.S. HRD
https://www.linkedin.com/in/takiyah-cunningham/

 

FOSTERING RESPECT IN THE WORKPLACE

Nearly 13 years ago, my family, and I relocated from the south. Within a few months, I accepted a role within an organization. However, the opportunity was short lived as I recognized early that it was not an environment where I could thrive.  There was an incident where I was speaking with a leader within the organization. I was told that I should “invest in a course on public speaking because my southern accent was a distraction.” And apparently, “people from the south are not viewed as intelligent.” This person either did not realize or did not care that this was a direct insult on who I am. In that moment, I was no longer engaged, and had made my decision to resign.

Respect is defined as due regard for the feelings, wishes, rights or traditions of others. This is a powerful workplace tool as we have daily experiences and interactions that demonstrate how diverse we are. It is during these interactions that the presence or absence of respect can make or break professional relationships. The workplace is a microcosm of our societal issues, and we cannot control the mindsets and actions of others. Yet, we can control ourselves and how we respond to those with different beliefs and opinions. The lack of focus in this area will continue to result in the loss of employees, customers and profits.

Organizations can circumvent this deficit with actions to intentionally create inclusive and equitable workplace cultures. To achieve this, organizations must be prepared to expand their current practices and operate in ways that may be uncomfortable. This is not to imply that with these changes conflict and disagreements will no longer exist or we will have workplace utopias. Yet, the growth and benefits are infinite for organizations choosing to make this an area of focus.

The following tips can aid in fostering respect within the workplace:

Willingness to learn- Providing opportunities for employees to learn about the lived experiences of others is key.  It is not enough for businesses to have high diversity numbers if the environment does not welcome and leverage the differences.

Equitable People Practices- Working to ensure policies and practices are in place to meet the unique needs of employees is important. Things like implementing floating holidays, gender-inclusive pronouns and language in all communications, gender neutral restroom facilities and implementing paid family leave are some of the ways organizations can demonstrate their commitment. 

Consistency is Key- The worst thing to do is overpromise and underdeliver. There are changes that can be implemented quickly and others that will take more time and funding. The key is to stay the course.

Organizations should not focus on changing morals and beliefs. The goal is to elicit behavior changes that are fair and respectful across the board. Everyone deserves civility and respect. The alternative can be expensive for businesses.  

 

Takiyah Cunningham, M.S. HRD

https://www.linkedin.com/in/takiyah-cunningham/

Articles of Interest - DOL

Articles of Interest - CIO

CIO

Articles of Interest - SHRM

Free 1 Hour Consultation Session

Consulting Diversity

For a free 1 hour consultation with an AllMac & Associates representation, please click the button below.

Articles of Interest - DLS

Articles of Interest - SHRM PODCAST

  • Justin Constantine on Veteran Employment

    Justin Constantine, a Marine combat veteran and author of From We Will to At Will: A Handbook for Veteran Hiring, Transitioning, and Thriving in the Workplace (SHRM, 2018), joins host Tony Lee to discuss why HR professionals often don't consider veterans when hiring, why that trend is reversing and how to retain veterans once they're hired.

    Mentioned on the podcast: JobPath

    Please subscribe to All Things Work on Apple

    ...
Go to top