Political discussion in the office has long been a lightning rod issue. In the past, talk about politics and religion was largely avoided in the workplace, but in today’s climate, it’s practically omnipresent. In February 2020, a Gartner survey found that 91% of US employees personally talk about politics or overhear political discussion at work. There’s no question that the 2020 presidential election has been contentious—and in many ways, the dust hasn’t settled yet. However, now that the election is over, employers must find a way to get their employees refocused and productive at work.

Discover practical ways you can minimize political discussion and distractions in the office. In the process, find out how you can promote a safe and inclusive environment to prevent polarization and hostility from entering your workplace. Help your employees get back on track with policies that focus on mutual respect and set the ground rules for navigating future discussions in a more positive, productive work environment.

Political distractions have impacted workforce productivity

An October 2020 Gartner survey found that 6 in 10 employees were distracted at work due to the presidential election. Add that to the stress from the lingering COVID-19 pandemic. There’s no question that employers have their work cut out for them to effectively manage both election-induced anxiety and the impacts from a global health crisis, yet effective management is essential for long-term success. Distraction is not good for employees or the workplace. In fact, workplace distraction has been found to negatively impact productivity, morale, collaboration, and employee wellbeing. Political-related stress is also exacerbating the feelings of fatigue and burnout many employees are already experiencing due to the ongoing pandemic.

First understand what’s legal and what’s not

Before you can establish and enforce political expression policies in your organization, it’s important to understand the federal, state, and local laws that govern political discussions in the workplace. For example, a common employer misconception is that just because you have a non-union workplace, your business can regulate all speech in the workplace. The reality is that the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) Section 7 applies to all private sector employees and protects their right to engage in concerted activities “for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.” 

Basically, employers can’t ban all political speech. Employers should consult legal counsel to help determine the difference between speech that can be regulated and speech that can’t. A great example of potentially protected speech is: a worker shares news that a candidate has pledged to raise the minimum wage and talks to co-workers about that news in the context of your workplace. 

Therefore, your organization’s policies should clearly explain both acceptable and barred activities. Gartner recommends using your organization’s culture as a guide when creating your policies. For example, your company may choose to allow some forms of political expression within clearly defined boundaries.

Helping employees move on

After considering your legal obligations and setting the boundaries for political discussion within your workplace, it’s also important to strengthen and reinforce company culture and values. In order for employees to feel safe in the workplace, your company must strive to create and maintain a safe and inclusive work environment. 

Left unchecked, political discussions and hard feelings can fester and create a toxic work environment where people don’t want to work together or collaborate. HR experts recommend getting things out in the open to minimize the tension. An emphasis should be placed on the importance of respect in the workplace. “What’s not OK is using ‘disagreement’ as a shield for harassment or an inability to work cooperatively with others.”

If it happens in an environment of mutual respect, some HR professionals believe that political expression can even have a positive impact in the workplace. Friendly political talk can contribute to a diverse culture and employee wellbeing. If political expression or discussions get heated, the situation can become unpredictable. Urge civility. It’s important for HR and other company managers to be visible—understand what employees are talking about, show compassion, don’t take sides, and demonstrate appropriate responses.

Give your team tools and support

People’s political views are more polarized than ever. Businesses and leaders need to recognize this reality and be ready to provide employees with the support they need to be healthy and productive.

For example, businesses can create safe spaces in the workplace to maintain productivity. Human Resources can lead training programs that help managers better recognize signs of distress, express empathy, and lead by example. 

Additionally, as your business works to get employee productivity back on track, be sure to show support for employees and help them refocus on their wellbeing. Share information about employee benefits and other resources available to help including employee assistance programs, mental health resources, or other wellness activities that can help them reboot.

Getting back on track

Don’t let discussions about politics disrupt productivity in the workplace or destroy employee morale. Understand the laws governing political discussion in the workplace and use your company culture as a guide to establish your policies. Emphasize the importance of mutual respect in the office and work to maintain a safe and inclusive work environment. Give your employees the tools and support they need to stay healthy and productive in times of stress. Asure can help you keep up
with the latest legislation, recruit new talent, and deal with all the administration that goes with managing your workforce.

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