HR Tips for Keeping Cool as the Election Year Heats Up

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HR Tips for Keeping Cool as the Election Year Heats Up.

In a tumultuous election year, keep distraction—and workplace political conflict—to a minimum.

Regardless of your side of the aisle, the months leading up to the November 2016 election are going to be a roller-coaster.  In a world shaken by terrorism, record numbers of migrants on the move, and continued economic uncertainty, American politics have become a water cooler flashpoint.

Keep your cool, and maintain your company culture by recognizing that the polarities of political opinion are often, and unfortunately, a good place to work out frustrations.  You can assist employees, and your organization, move through this, and other, election cycles by putting some thought—and structure—around workplace political commentary.

Recognizing that your organization may lean one direction or the other, consider these ideas for maintaining progress when local, or general, election processes heat up:

  • Home court: It is possible your business or organization clearly identifies with one platform, or idea.  While this cuts the noise within the organization, it does not mean that everyone on board agrees.  In a clearly labeled environment, it is unlikely that workers who disagree with company direction will say much.  Flying under the political radar can be stifling.  Also, certain types of speech, such as discussions concerning working conditions, could be considered protected.  Be sure messaging is consistent, neutral, and respectful of the opinions of all employees.

Ensure employees are not subjected to political messaging that could be considered to advance one platform or the other.  This includes wearing politically promotional clothing, dispensing party material, or pressuring a worker to financially contribute to a local or national campaign.

  • One way or the other: For businesses or organizations that embrace diversity, it is likely no one opinion is going to hold sway.  While it is impossible to police opinion, it is possible to ask employees to maintain focus during work hours, and engage in political banter outside of that time.  Most of the time HR and managerial staff just hope staff will deal reasonably with different opinions—and do so on their own time.  Be sure executive, administrative, and HR staff model respect and restraint on political matters throughout any election year.
  • Embrace the season: Whether Democrat, Republican, or other, the political fervor of an election year does not generally end when the workday begins.  Recognizing that employees have political opinions does not limit your ability to encourage those thoughts be expressed outside the workplace, and not on electronic media associated with your business.

Without endorsing any one political view, nurture your culture by requesting respect on all matters between co-workers—on and off the job.  Going further, your business could endorse the political process, without endorsing a candidate.  An engagement program might offer employees the opportunity to investigate and explore a relevant issue being discussed in the election.  Organize after-work or lunch events to discuss topics—not candidates.  Promote “Get out the Vote” efforts and be sure employees have the time to make their voice heard through voting on Election Day.

  • Watch the content: Just as you want to ensure your employees have the right to discuss views that are workplace relevant, be careful to offer training in types of speech considered hateful or discriminatory.  In the current political climate, there is a wide conversational swing that could be reduced to hurtful breakroom conversations considered as sexual, racial, or other types of harassment.  In the same light, be careful of words, or actions, that could be considered retaliatory toward employees who may embrace different political views.

Be sure your employee handbook is updated to reflect the behavior expected during an election.  Ensure that prohibited behavior and language is clearly spelled out.  During onboarding, and throughout the employment cycle, use material from the handbook to refresh knowledge of your discrimination and other regulatory policies.

Routinely speak with managers, as well as employees, about the need to understand company policy—and the reasons why it is important.  Well-trained management personnel can identify and respond to questionable comments and employee behaviors as well as model appropriate workplace conversations.  When problems arise, investigate and handle them quickly using the policies set forth in your handbook.

Most employees understand the need for personal and political restraint and look to their employer, and company culture, to support structure, productivity, and healthy communication.  During this election year, offer support for the political process while putting workplace productivity at the top of the agenda.

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