Politics In the Workplace – What’s an Employer To Do?

Betterworks, an HR company, reports that since the 2016 election, more people are paying attention to politics, and that includes when they are at work:

• 87% of employees “read political social media posts at work”

• 80% percent said they have discussed politics with professional contacts or colleagues

• nearly 50% said they had seen a political conversation turn into an argument at work

What does this mean for the workplace? Politics has long been regarded as a taboo topic on the job, right up there with badmouthing your boss, touting your religion, the amount of your paycheck, family concerns, and health issues. These items have been relegated squarely to the realm of personal; except as work encroaches on personal time, it is harder to keep some of these items out of the workplace, particularly when there may be a direct impact on employees’ mental health. For survivors of sexual assault, these proceedings are hard to ignore. There is also a greater emphasis on company culture, and creating an environment where people feel they belong. This creates a greater desire to work in places with like-minded people, which means that people are more interested in their colleagues. While experiences of sexual assault may not be primary conversation for the lunchroom, people are adept at seeking cues about their colleagues to learn about their. It has become the norm to share. This means it is harder to ignore political leanings, despite the negative impacts this may have on teams.

It’s a scary number for employer, but if it’s true and it speaks to the reach of the nomination proceedings, it may be worth acknowledging the experiences that are driving this degree of engagement particularly as it can contribute to the overall company culture that employers are trying to achieve. A roundtable or a town-hall may be too open of forum for employers to wade into but there are small and simple actions that they can take:

• Remind employees of benefits that may assist them if they are experiencing stress or depression as a result of the current political climate: many employees overlook the availability and use of an Employee Assistance Program because they’re concerned about confidentiality.

• Offer trainings for managers to recognize the symptoms of depression and suicide so that they can potentially intervene if they spot at-risk behaviors.

• Take steps to bolster a team environment with group activities that foster safe and collegial interactions. This doesn’t necessarily mean drinks after work; a team lunch or team offsite field trip are inclusive alternatives to consider.

This latter point is particularly relevant as the public discourse around politics can leave some groups feeling alienated or targeted. For companies genuinely interested in the culture of the office, this is an opportunity to reinforce a sense of community, support, and belonging and go a long way toward mitigating the long-term impact of the always-on news cycle.

So much of the existing literature on politics at work emphasizes diminishing the conversation and reminding employees that this is not an appropriate topic for the workplace, but this advice serves a work experience that may be outdated in some industries. If the lines between work and life continue to blur, as they likely will, it’s unrealistic to expect that people will not react, respond, or track these conversations. They do, after all, have real implications for live of many of these people.

-Excerpt from Anthropology In Practice – The Impact of Politics on Workplace Productivity by Krystal D’Costa.  Read the full article here.

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