Politics in Today’s Office Isn’t Just Normal Office Politics

Remember the time when workplace etiquette made it impolite to discuss religion and politics at the office? And remember when “office politics” just meant the games you’d play to get something? After two years of one of the most emotionally taxing presidential races in American history, that time is gone now. A 2016 survey by the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) found that 26 percent of the respondents reported an increase in tension, hostility or arguments among co-workers because of political affiliation.

With a new president taking office, and the resulting fallout both at home and abroad, political discussions among co-workers of opposing viewpoints can get heated. Throw in the effects of social media, and conflict can flare up before you know it. It gives the term, “office politics” a whole new meaning.

However, just like there are usually two sides in every political argument, there is one thing you can do to protect your company legally and another to resolve conflict.

To protect your company legally, it is best to have clear and concise written policies and procedures about political actions in the workplace. Shockingly, in the SHRM survey cited above, only 24 percent of respondents have a written policy about political activity in the workplace. Eight percent said they have an unwritten policy. With numbers that low, it’s not surprising that employees in many companies aren’t clear on appropriate behavior.

When it comes to free speech regarding politics, it shocks many employees that the First Amendment sometimes doesn’t apply at work. The law gives private employers latitude for regulating political speech during working hours.

For instance, discussions about topics such as minimum wage, equal pay or paid leave, are usually protected by federal labor laws even though they are hot topics politically. On the other hand, insensitive or careless comments about race, gender or religion, which are front and center in the current political discourse about those very same topics, can lead to harassment or discrimination claims.

Furthermore, if you have given the employees the written policy, trained them on it and have a copy that they signed off on in their employee files, you can greatly reduce the risk your company runs if claims and lawsuits start flying.

On a daily, interpersonal level, if a political discussion between two co-workers turns into a heated political conflict, there are a few conflict resolution techniques you can use to try to defuse the situation.

Address it head-on. When conflict arises, you need to raise the issue with the parties involved. You want to emphasize the need for your employees to address it. Explain that negative feelings and thoughts, when handled correctly, turn positive and productive.

Listen to both sides. Politically, you’ll probably agree more with one employee over the other. However, you must speak to both sides with the same amount of concern. Talk to them separately to get their perspective on the argument. Along with the emotions, get the specific facts that caused the situation to blow out of control.

Bring everyone involved together. Allow them to share their version of the events or issue. Often, this step will reveal facts that the others were unaware of.

Find common ground. This might be the most important step, because each side often has a concern the other party can agree with. This becomes the foundation for bridging the gap between parties.

Promote finding the middle ground. For the sake of working together, each person must give in a little. Because all sides are usually entrenched in their beliefs, this step may take a while. But, when it is accomplished, everyone feels better.

Tackle negativity. Work out the feelings and thoughts that arose during the conflict stage. Unless this happens, the current problem may go away, but the negative feelings will stay and another conflict could recur.

Be positive. Agree to address future conflicts in a positive manner using the tactics you all used to resolve this one.

Anxiety about the future makes employees feel overwhelmed and discouraged. While workplace conflicts have been around forever, managers who excel at helping their employees work through disagreements – even the political kind – will build stronger relationships throughout their organizations.

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