Employers should tread carefully through the rest of election season
Monday, October 10, 2016
Who do you think should be the next president of the U.S.? Donald Trump? Hillary Clinton? In just under a month, people will be flooding polling places to choose who they think is the best candidate to lead America.
No matter who is chosen, there's no question this has been an interesting election season — especially after Sunday night's heated debate. And because of the polarization, people have become more vocal about their opinions in the workplace. In fact, a recent survey released by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) showed that 26 percent of employers say there is greater political volatility in the workplace when compared to previous elections.
Can you blame them, though? Whether it's through a Twitter feed, political memes or an update from the local news station, the politics of Clinton and Trump are surrounding each and every one of us. Since there's so much consumption of information, it's inevitable that it will probably come up in the workplace.
But is a political discussion ever a good thing?
Let's be real for a minute. Can you honestly say that someone has really won an argument regarding politics? It's usually concluded with an eye roll, a walk-off in frustration or mumbles of rebuttals under someone's breath.
In the workplace, a political discussion will leave you sitting at your desk disturbed about the conversation you just left. No matter what type of company you're a part of — small business or large corporation — discussing politics will likely backfire on employers.
The National Labor Relations Board classifies political discussions as "protected concerted activity," so employers can't stop their employees from discussing politics. That said, employers in the private sector are able to bar discussions in the workplace at their own discretion as long as the talk is not about labor issues like wages and working conditions.
The SHRM survey showed "a majority of HR professionals (72 percent) said their organizations discourage political activities in the workplace, only 24 percent of organizations have a written policy and 8 percent have an unwritten policy about political activities in the workplace."
In addition, employers can step in if conversations become disrespectful or distracting — especially if it affects productivity.
Think about it: There's a reason why many polling places have partitions. It's always best to keep political opinions personal, instead of professional.
"A good rule of thumb is to avoid those topics that generate the most arguments when you are with family and friends," said Edward Yost, HR business partner/employee relations at SHRM. "Political discussions could damage the cooperative working relationship between employees who land squarely on opposite sides of an incendiary issue."
If discussions arise in the workplace, employees may start to resent each other, which could lead to difficult workplace relationships. Topics at work need to not hinder productivity and/or relationships.
"The problem [with talking politics at work] is that people don't just express their opinion. They proselytize and try to bring people over to their point of view," Human Resources expert Susan Heathfield told U.S. News & World Report.
It may be hard to hold back your opinion, but know that the more you express it, the more you're giving someone to work against and become heated about. In addition to starting heated discussions, it can make a person feel isolated/bullied.
Not every person is going to agree with certain views and opinions, and that's OK. But know that even the slightest mention of politics can interfere with the workplace morale. As an employer, it's best to be neutral and polite. Your employees will follow in your direction and — hopefully — be neutral, as well.
We all know the country is divided right now on who is the best candidate. And though the decision will come Nov. 8, you shouldn't let politicians control your workplace environment.
Tread carefully throughout the remainder of the election season.
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