Focus on Work…. Not Politics

“May you live in interesting times.”  (aka “The Chamberlain Curse”)

To put it mildly, 2020 has been a year of surprises.   These “surprises” have put Americans on edge, topping it off with one of the most contentious Presidential races in recent memory.  Our dynamic environment of Zoom calls, Teams Chat, and a variety of other technology mediums used to help us communicate with our teams, puts companies at risk of creating one more division:  Politics.  Suffice to say, it is in everyone’s best interest to keep the work environment a “Politics-free zone.”  As companies begin to rebuild and reshape after major shutdowns, it is more important than ever to make sure every employee feels respected and to embrace an environment where everyone can do their best work.

Historically, 26% of Americans admit to talking politics in the workplace on a regular basis (at least 15 minutes per workweek), according to the latest Society for Human Resource Management [“SHRM”] research.  A SHRM research/poll conducted last year found that:

  • 26% of Americans admit to talking politics in the workplace on a regular basis (at least 15 minutes per workweek)
  • 42% of employees have had a “political disagreement” at work
  • 12% have experienced political affiliation bias

Businesses themselves have faced criticism for having political views.  For example, Chick-fil-A was publicly criticized for contributing to charities opposed to LGBTQ rights (although the company changed its policy last November) and Hobby Lobby was sued for refusing to provide coverage for birth control via its health care plan for employees based on religious beliefs.

The heightened political tension can influence both individual health and workplace productivity.  An American Psychological Association survey conducted in 2017 found that 40% of the participants said the contentious political environment had led to at least one of the following negative outcomes:

  • Poorer work quality
  • Lower productivity
  • A negative view of fellow employees

A survey by Reflektive, a performance management platform, found that 32% of U.S. workers said they needed a mental health day after the 2016 election.  We should all get ready for the days following the 2020 presidential election!

So, what can employers do during the ongoing political debates, political ads and as overall political unrest increases?  Here are a few suggestions:

  • Focus on an overall respectful workplace – have policies and offer trainings that focus on RESPECT. You don’t have to specifically emphasize politics, just remember to treat others kindly and respectfully
  • Set an example from the top! The CEO/Owner/Manager should not be voicing their political opinions during meetings, on social media, or in front of employees at all.
  • If you have televisions in the break-room, try not to have it on political debates, specific political programming or left/right sided news.
  • Limit or ban all displays in the office that are political – this includes buttons, t-shirts, posters, etc.
  • Remember to be mindful of federal and state laws that protect certain types of speech. The National Labor Relations Board, for example, protects workers discussing unionization and workplace conditions in the workplace, so completely banning politics in the workplace may not be realistic in some settings.
  • Utilize resources to help during this time: i.e. this SHRM article provides guidance on How Should HR Handle Political Discussions at Work?

Regardless of the upcoming election and the other turmoil employees are dealing with, people are looking for unity and should reasonably be able to find that in the work environment.  It is more important than ever for leadership and Human Resources to anticipate conflict that may arise over the current election and to put protocols and tools in place to maintain harmony at work.  Instead of a countdown to the election, let’s countdown to 2021 – everyone can agree that putting 2020 in the rear-view mirror will be a relief.