Culture

Political Conversations at Work

By

Caleb Masters

| Aug 20, 2017

In the wake of a heated post-election season, we’re reminded that political conversations in the workplace are inevitable. It is important for HR and managers to work together and guide employees out of potentially tumultuous situations without sacrificing a productive, politically diverse workforce.

Listen now to the HR Break Room podcast episode, Political Conversations at Work: Should HR Pass It or Veto It?

Identify politically sensitive conversations within your organization.

A political conversation can be categorized as a discussion about an issue or idea that impacts society, often tied to legislation or action taken by politicians on a local, state or federal level. When looking at your workplace, the most important piece in identifying these issues isn’t the “what,” but the “why?”

Heated conversations that risk creating a hostile work environment tie directly to each employee’s personal belief system; new legislation or political statements are often the match that ignites the flame.

A recent example is the Affordable Care Act. The piece of federal legislation is complex and steeped in policy, but workplace conversations surrounding the bill can  lead to arguments about states’ rights and the ethics of providing health care for all citizens. Opinions on those underlying beliefs is what drives the real office conflicts. Outside of the ACA, discussions about gender, race or religion, if left unchecked, can become toxic ingredients in a recipe for an unproductive and unhealthy work environment.

Good management minimizes conflict.

To minimize these scenarios of conflict, it is critical for managers to understand the underlying beliefs of their people. A manager who is aware of the dynamics of his or her team will be listening when office talk grows heated.

The goal of diffusing such talk is not to sanitize the beliefs of your employees, but rather to deflect the conversation to something more productive. Acknowledging the point of conflict and gently reminding employees of their work is a great way to steer these conversations that direction.

Know the power of HR’s acknowledgement in addressing political conversations.

Your HR department should be aware of potentially disruptive conversations before they become unsettling. Managers, consider informing HR of any toxic or recurring political conversations so they can begin constructing a department or companywide message to employees. In especially challenging cases, HR may need to consider a disciplinary or corrective policy to discourage instigators.

In a recent episode of our HR Break Room podcast, special guest Robin Schooling, described how her organization, Hollywood Casino Baton Rouge, handled politics immediately after the 2016 election.

“Within my HR team, we crafted a three-sentence answer so that we were all on the same page. When employees asked, ‘I know Washington is looking at the Affordable Care Act. How is that going to affect our particular plan, our health insurance?’ we had an answer prepared. Not only did we have an answer, we also shared it in the company newsletter as a way to acknowledge that we were watching the issue.”

When new policy is necessary, HR should be careful not to discriminate against those employees who want to engage in political activities outside of work. Talented employees who are passionate about their opinions could view strict company policy as an unattractive trait. Something as simple as acknowledgment of the issue to employees can put their minds at ease on the subject and reduce potentially heated discussions.

Manage political conversations in the office tomorrow by listening to this podcast today.

Create a politically diverse, yet cohesive work culture.

Ultimately, the message and the policy crafted by HR should be traced back to the organization’s culture created by senior leadership. It is crucial for company leadership to consider the perception of their employees: What are the employer’s values? Does it foster a culture that allows employees to have differing opinions and be open to discussions?

Leaders and managers need to lead by example when driving the conversation about political topics. Instead of squashing dialogue, educate managers on how to responsibly voice opinions and be human beings. In many circumstances, the best way to set the tone for an inclusive work culture is to encourage employees to reconsider engaging in such on-the-clock talk in the first place. Even a politically diverse work culture focuses on relationships and individuals without sacrificing a healthy, productive and desirable environment.

About the Author

Caleb Masters

Caleb is the host of The HR Break Room and a Webinar and Podcast Producer at Paycom. With more than 5 years of experience as a published online writer and content producer, Caleb has produced dozens of podcasts and videos for multiple industries both local and online. Caleb continues to assist organizations creatively communicate their ideas and messages through researched talks, blog posts and new media. Outside of work, Caleb enjoys running, discussing movies and trying new local restaurants.

See more posts by Caleb Masters