In theory, most employers and managers would prefer to keep politics out of the workplace. In reality, it’s difficult to leave anything that people care about at the front door. In a February Gartner survey of US employees, 47% of those surveyed said that they were distracted at work by the presidential election; 36% reported that the topic led them to avoid talking to or working with a coworker because of their political views; 31% who talk politics at work reported these conversations to be stressful and/or frustrating.
It’s a fairly sure bet that as the election and news coverage has gotten closer and gained steam, your employees are even more distracted now, not less. Particularly in the year of the pandemic, which has just increased the stressors and the issues facing your workforce. The stakes are high.
The good news is there’s just about a week left as we countdown to one of the most heated political elections in recent memory; the bad news is that because so many people will vote by mail to avoid the Covid-19 risks of voting in person, we might not have results right away. Those who are more mature among us remember that in the year 2000, the final election results were not decided until the Supreme Court issued a decision on December 12, more than a month after election day.
Hopefully, things will be decided quickly with minimal conflict, but what can you do to maintain workplace productivity and reduce friction and stress for your employees over the coming weeks? We offer a few tips and tools that might be helpful.
- Consider issuing a pre-election memo from the senior-most executive acknowledging that while the election may indeed be distracting, the expectation is that everyone will:
- Focus on productivity and their important role in meeting your organization’s core mission.
- Maintain a culture of respect in the workplace with colleagues, partners, and customers
- Remind employees of your organization’s zero tolerance policy for harassment, discrimination, and bullying in any form, and your commitment to diversity.
- Ask managers to be on alert for signs of conflict or disruption, and your expectation that they will interrupt any potential distractions or conflict to put the focus back on your organization’s work mission.
- Know your state/local laws. While “freedom of speech” generally does not apply to private sector employers, public employers and some states may have different laws regulating workplace speech and political activity. Check with your employment attorney about any state and local laws about politics related to your workplace.
- Encourage people to vote. Remind employees of your policy for work leave (see legal articles below). Avoid anything that might be construed as advice or direction about who to vote for, keep things neutral.
- Use your EAP: EAP counselors and coaches are available 24/7/365 for any employee stress or problems. In addition, there are free, on-demand eLearning courses on preventing harassment and discrimination, as well as courses on conflict management and resolution.
- Harvard Business Review – Don’t Let Election Passions Roil Your Workplace and Managing a Team with Conflicting Political Views
- HR Web Café: Is politics the new productivity drain at work?
- Fisher Phillips – How To Handle Unprecedented Workplace Tension This Election Season: A 10-Step Action Plan
- Proskauer – Election Season and the Workplace: Part 1: Employee “Free Speech” and Political Activities and part 2: Political Leave Laws
- Littler: What is the Story with Employee Election Leave?
- Robinson & Cole: Regulating Political Speech and Expression in the 2020 Workplace