As the presidential election continues to heat up, employees are no doubt spending more time watching the news, checking social media accounts and hanging out discussing the candidates – potentially igniting personnel conflicts that could simmer long after Nov. 8 comes and goes.
Doug Walker, manager of HR Services at Insperity, an HR outsourcing company, says the current, highly polarized presidential campaign may cause an employer to be concerned that the resulting political tensions will carry over into the workplace.
“The risk of political divisions in the workplace likely will increase even more as this especially heated election cycle continues,” Walker says.
"This election year is running high on emotion, ugly rhetoric, and polarization,” adds Mary Kelly, co-author, along with Peter Stark, of a new leadership book, Why Leaders Fail. “Unfortunately, some of the angst associated with the issues of the election is creeping into the workplace. People are angry. Angry people are less productive. What does a great leader do?"
Kelly created five guidelines for leaders who want to succeed when it comes to managing the workplace during this especially contentious presidential campaign.
Raise the bar, set performance expectations
“Employees who have a lot of time to talk about politics do not have enough to do,” Kelly says. “Make it clear to your teams that what we do is important, and we need everyone to focus on doing their job to succeed.”
Demand a culture of respect
Make sure everyone knows that while there will always be differences of opinions, the workplace there will always be a culture of respect.
“You don't have to like other people's opinions, but you do have to respect the fact that they are entitled to opinions that are different from yours,” she says “You may not like someone's politics, but that doesn't mean you get to disrespect them.”
Remind employees of uniting factors
Ultimately what unites people is a desire to work, provide for their families and make a difference in the world. “We all want to be successful, support others, and be a positive role model in the community,” she says. “Remind people that at work, we need to stay focused on what unites us: the mission, vision and goals of the company.”
Agree to disagree
Leaders know not everyone is going to agree on every decision or every issue, and that is true in the workplace as well as politics. Kelly says to allow people the freedom to respectfully discuss, but make sure any diatribes remain thoughtful, civil, and respectful.
Finally, Kelly says most of her clients in the business world have one thing in common: They complain that they have way too much to do and not enough time to get all their work done. “We can’t waste time with distraction,” she says. “Leaders can help limit distractions by holding people accountable for the on-time achievement of their performance goals.”
Walker also offered several other suggestions to help employees navigate the next few months. For one thing, he says it’s important to separate work life from personal life.
“Because many Americans work long hours, it is easy to forget the need for boundaries between employees’ personal lives and professional lives,” he says. “Employees should remember that workplace friendships are different from personal friendships.”
He explains that workers should be careful about being too outspoken when it comes to their political views, even in cases where they believe coworkers might share some of the same opinions, adding that “oversharing” carries the risk of tainting opportunities for future advancement, alienating coworkers, or even current and future customers who do not share a similar ideology.
Advise employees to leave their political stuff at home, such as posters, pins, etc. In fact, a ban may be appropriate for public spaces and in all areas where employees have direct contact with clients and vendors.
Another idea is to turn off the TV. Walker explains that it’s almost commonplace for American offices to have televisions running so workers can remain up-to-date on current events. But the nonstop coverage and partisan attacks on today’s 24-hour news channels may increase the risk of political oversharing in the office or even cause unnecessary stress for employees.
As Kelly noted, and Walker agrees, HR leaders and managers should remember they often set the tone for the office. Leaders may consider asking managers to be mindful about comments on political matters.
“Conversely, if a supervisor is highly vocal about his or her politics, staff will likely follow suit,” he says. “It may not be a door you want opened.”
Of course, while an employer can’t ban workplace political discussion, leadership may consider asking employees to limit political talk or activity to the lunch hour or other work breaks. It is also important to remind staff to respect the views of others. Also, employers should quickly investigate any employee complaints that may arise, but focus only on the workplace behavior and the impact it may be having on relationships and results – not on the differing political opinions.
“Because issues like politics and religion can be so emotionally charged, the consequences for an employee and his/her career, as well as for the business, can be significant if one expresses a belief or opinion that varies from others,” Walker says. “Talking politics can be a CLM … a career limiting move.”