While most of us forge friendships with like-minded people who affirm our strongly held beliefs, we don’t choose our colleagues. This makes it inevitable that at times some of the people we work with will hold different views on a number of topics, not least of all politics.
Historically, certain topics were off-limits in the workplace: religion, politics and personal dramas to name just a few. However, thanks to the advent of social media and 24-hour, multi-media coverage of politics, tensions in some workplaces are rising. Additionally, conversations about recent polarizing political events are being had despite the stress it may cause.
The American Psychological Association found in their post-election survey that nearly a third of all employees had witnessed coworkers arguing about politics, and 15% had been involved in an argument themselves. Furthermore, 24% admitted to avoiding some colleague because of their political views.
In an environment where people should be collaborating and working towards shared goals, arguments over non-work issues and colleagues avoiding each other is more than a little worrying. Such discord can end up affecting productivity, and will become evident as you conduct employee performance evaluations and monitor objectives and key results at work. So how should businesses deal with political discussions in the workplace?
Monitoring Workplace Conversations
It may be tempting to ban conversations about politics altogether, especially if they are adversely impacting workplace productivity and employee relations. However, monitoring every conversation throughout the day and nurturing a culture of distrust and finger-pointing to enforce such a ban is counter-productive.
As Sally Bibb discussed in her book ‘Strengths-Based Recruitment and Development: A Practical Guide to Transforming Talent Management Strategy for Business Results’, rich company cultures are built through allowing people to be themselves. Tolerance for different approaches and different views need to be nurtured and balanced by an equally weighted importance of understanding that business is performance-based. Although diversity is necessary, the common goals of the company should override personally held political or other views.
Simply put, employees aren’t robots who turn off their emotions when entering the office and return to their normal selves at the end of the work day. People bring their whole selves to work and workplaces are better for it. It enables inspired collaborative discussions and we all benefit from multiple views to help us find solutions to shared business problems.
Dealing with Heated Workplace Discussions
Tension in the workplace should never be ignored by company leaders, be it based on political or other strongly held views. It is unlikely that tension will evaporate spontaneously, and if it’s impacting performance it should be addressed sooner rather than later.
Recognizing differences, acknowledging points of tension, and addressing them openly can begin to dissipate ill-feeling. Rather than trying to change opinion or gloss over differences, managers should affirm with their teams that they can work together despite differing opinions.
Discussions on political topics should rarely be shut down, and guiding principles should be put in place to ensure talk is kept civil and all employees feel they are able to express their feelings in a safe and supportive environment without causing tensions or escalating problems in the workplace. The principles of respect, keeping the focus on achieving business goals, and fostering an inclusive and collaborative workplace should be conferred regularly in companywide meetings or in one to-one performance reviews.
Common Goals Bring Us Together
Just as there have been a number of polarizing political events in the past year, so too have there been occasions where people have put aside differences to focus on common goals. The same should be true of the workplace.
We will always have differing views to colleagues on a range of topics, from politics to how we raise our children. The key is to focus on the business’ worthwhile goals and put aside the differences that have no bearing on the tasks at hand.
By seeing the bigger picture of what the company is aiming to achieve, employees are better able to focus on key objectives, effectively collaborate, and achieve optimal employee performance.
Maintain Workplace Efficiency with a Social Media Policy
Social media has become one of the main sources for political news, especially for Millennials. Keeping one eye on feeds not only distracts employees from their work, but also increases the possibility of heated discussions interrupting workplace harmony.
Soft policies to minimize social media use during work hours can keep people focused and contribute to work efficiency. If political discussions do arise, managers should try to re-direct discussions to issues that impact work-life–not personal life. Additionally, they should encourage workers to keep it light-hearted with non-confrontational questions, rather than beginning discussions on heated issues where there is little-to-no middle ground.
Seek to Understand
Political discussions, or any discussion with people holding opposing views to our own don’t have to be difficult, and can ultimately be extremely productive. Having conversations with colleagues and people who hold differing views to our own with the intention of learning new perspectives and opening our world view can have positive impacts on the workplace and our lives in general.
Learning how to discuss politics and other issues in productive and empathetic ways can help us in all areas of our lives, from work performance reviews to relationship issues. Speaking with tact and listening effectively will make political and other potentially heated discussions easier and beneficial for both parties.
Politics can’t be ignored. The policies made by government affect every corner of our lives, but we can’t let it create a negative work atmosphere either. Today’s leaders and managers must show responsibility when enabling employees to express themselves freely to ensure a healthy company culture and the core standards of respect, inclusiveness and focusing on business goals can be maintained.