They say the three things you should never discuss in public are religion, politics, and money. These days, it’s pretty hard not to, considering we’re in an election year, and these three topics are often intertwined.
We’re going to focus on politics. We just concluded a gruelling election season that some can argue has created more divisiveness than we’ve experienced in modern history. With the rapid fire dissemination of information (and misinformation) on social media and 24-hour news coverage, it’s all but impossible for politics to not permeate your life, including the workplace.
Consider this: Gartner surveyed American workers, showing that 6 in 10 felt distracted by the election, while 22% reported the election has had a significant impact on their ability to do their jobs.
It’s likely that the political debating among staff is already in progress or inevitably will be, and as a business owner, here’s how you can respond.
Don’t Initiate the Conversation
This is the rare instance where we encourage you not to be proactive. Don’t address the 800 pound elephant in the room as long as it’s not swinging its tusks. In other words, if your employees aren’t arguing, then let it be because, however well-intentioned, if you express your personal viewpoint, you risk alienating half your workforce by uttering only a few words.
Chances are your staff are not apolitical. The same Gartner survey revealed that 43% of workers found it difficult to work with colleagues who held opposing political opinions. A different study by Zety, showed that over 20% of people felt disrespected by co-workers due to their political beliefs and nearly 40% felt uncomfortable at work because of so much political talk.
Here’s where you can step in and stress that differing opinions must be respected and that employees can agree to disagree. Remind your staff of the company core values they helped shape and that politics shouldn’t change them.
Encourage Employees to Focus on Work
Today many people scoff at the “put politics aside” cliché because of the connection between them and moral compasses. But work isn’t Facebook, and the message to employees should be to put their work first. At the end of the day, they have jobs to do, and you have a business to run. Republicans, Democrats, Independents, or what have you, have to suck it up, regard each other as colleagues, and prioritize the work.
Now, this doesn’t mean your employees can’t speak to you in private. One-on-one meetings should always be encouraged and could prove beneficial in allaying their concerns.
Find Common Ground
To quote the late, great Maya Angelou, “We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.” In fact, it’s a good idea to hang that up in every room of the office. Encourage employees to find common ground, and you can even note that it already exists. Follow this advice from Forbes that addresses employees:
“While putting politics aside will work most of the time, if it does seep into conversations, assume good intentions on the part of your colleague. Their views may be very different than yours, but you certainly share big goals like the desire for a healthy community, love for the children in your lives and care for family members. Know their views may be different, but their overall intentions are probably similar to yours. This commonality is powerful glue for the community and your relationship.”
Though politics is such a touchy subject, you don’t have to walk on eggshells when it starts to become a problem in the workplace. Without sharing your political leanings, you can convey the importance of setting aside differences for the good of the company.