Excerpted from an SHRM Blog by Eva Del Rio
Q: For the last few months two of my employees have been constantly bickering about politics.
While most other employees were staying out of the discussion now more of them are getting dragged in, to the point that we now have a divided, tense work environment. I’m hesitant to get involved but I am concerned that the negativity is affecting productivity and morale.
What can I do to return to a healthy collegial workplace?
A: You might be hesitant to get involved, but you have no choice. In fact, you should have gotten involved sooner, back when there were only two employees involved.
We are living in interesting times. News coverage is filled with political discord and a level of nastiness and incivility that’s new. It’s no wonder it creates anxiety and fear in some people who might want an outlet to release this pressure at work. But, work is not the right place.
Even if politicians and celebrities continue breaking social norms, it’s important (perhaps more than ever) that we continue to observe norms at work, respect for one another and not tolerate misbehavior. Unlike Thanksgiving dinner that only lasts an afternoon in which you can argue or ignore your opinionated Uncle Charlie, work is all day, every day. So, work should remain a “safe” non-political space.
So, how do you restore what you had?
Don’t tolerate inappropriate behavior. You might need to call a group meeting, dust off the code of conduct section in your handbook, review/share your expectations of how employees are to treat each other. If hostility has taken a hold, you might need to get help from a conflict resolution trainer/consultant. There are ways to work with people with opposing views and get them to be more tolerant of each other’s beliefs, sometimes even find common ground on shared values.
Change the environment. Don’t allow radio/tv news to play at work. These can be triggers. Have music instead. Don’t allow employees to wear or display political messages or engage in political activities at work. This includes discussing politics.
Find a charity or cause everyone can rally behind and provide company support. Maybe it’s rescuing pets, or mentoring kids.
Hopefully you have caught this problem in time to reverse it. Don’t shy away from taking action and remember to remain neutral.
Employees will be watching.