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/

 

 Mental Health in the Workplace

Addressing Mental Health in the Workplace

This is a time of excitement, change and fear. We are excited about the crisp air of fall and its beautiful foliage. Also, nearing the end of the (calendar) year, organizations are evaluating business performance and planning next year’s goals. A lot of us are excited to round third base of 2020 and put it behind us.

Our human experience over the past months has been connected by allowing us to share our acquaintance with unexpected change. There have been changes  in how we enjoy our favorite sports, celebrate holidays, life events and in our workplace operational practices.

Yet, lately, the underpinning of some of our professional and personal decisions are now derived out of fear. When will we feel safe about our children returning to school or our safe return to the workplace? Flu season is upon us, how will this affect the workforce during a pandemic?  These life events affect us in many ways,  including our mental health. There are individuals who have never experienced mental health issues until now. And those who are too familiar with  trying hard to function daily. 

Leaders, there is a huge opportunity to aid workers, by intently listening and regularly communicating available resources for coping with mental illness and creating work spaces where employees feel empowered to act when things seem out of sync.

Working in an environment that is encouraging, nurturing and perceived as inclusive can have positive effects on employees’ mental health. It also increases productivity. According to the CDC, “Depression interferes with a person’s ability to complete physical job tasks about 20% of the time and reduces cognitive performance about 35% of the time…” Additionally, “Only 57% of employees who report moderate depression and 40% of those who report severe depression receive treatment to control depression symptoms.” As we create strategies around engagement and inclusion, creating expectations for regular check ins with employees to build greater rapport, understand professional challenges and observe changes in behavior and performance can provide needed support

There are many resources available to organizations. Below, Human Resource Executive provides several strategies for assisting employees suffering from mental health issues.

  • Leadership—Role model a mental-health-friendly workplace from the upper echelons.
  • Organizational/Environmental Support—Implement an accessible mental-health plan
  • Communication—Frequently share information about policies, programs, benefits, resources and training.
  • Programs and Benefits—Offer comprehensive benefits that center mental health.
  • Engagement—Invite employees at all levels to take part in decision-making about mental health in the workplace.
  • Community Partnerships—Involve community stakeholders in executing the mental-health plan.
  • Reporting Outcomes:Continuously enhance offerings to improve employee well-being.

Mental health is as important as our physical health. Ensuring your organization has clear and openly discussed mental health support strategies builds a workforce that is trusting, engaged, productive and healthier.

 

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

 

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