Between politics and the pandemic, conversations can heat up quickly. Focus on common goals, ideas, and interests to keep your workplace cool.
Mix politics with a pandemic, and the result is potentially explosive. However, leaders in the field suggest some strategies for keeping the heat down and teamwork up, even when workers have opposing and passionately held beliefs.
First, recognize that a diverse workforce means an array of viewpoints and experiences. Don’t try to stifle people’s beliefs or their efforts to be involved in political efforts or social activism. Encourage workers to vote and be part of the solution.
- Try to maintain a ‘safe zone.’ Discourage political discussion in the workplace. Have a policy regarding behavior such as wearing political buttons or hats. Clarify the difference between expressing an opinion and harassing others.
- Provide training programs and exercises to promote mutual respect. As businesses reopen, make expectations clear regarding social distancing and mask-wearing. If masks are optional, stress that mocking someone for wearing (or not wearing) a mask is unacceptable. Find a way to make everyone feel safe and comfortable.
- Anticipate emotional responses. Don’t sit back and wait for things to heat up. Anticipate that there will be diverse viewpoints and that people may be very passionate about their beliefs. Again, have a policy in place for political discussions; remind workers about the consequences for violating the rules.
- Find common ground. Encourage people to focus on common goals, interests, and concerns. For instance, organize events that focus on sharing flowers with residents or bringing in pets or children for visits. Have softball, bowling, dance, or other groups where workers come together and function as a team.
- Insist on civility. Make it clear that name-calling is never acceptable and that there will be consequences for disrespectful, bad behavior.
- Realize how important people’s beliefs are to them. Don’t try to ignore or dismiss people’s views as important or insignificant. Let them know that it is okay, even admirable, to be passionate about politics; but it is not acceptable to push one’s beliefs on others, bully or harass coworkers, or make others feel uncomfortable.
- Promote facts over fiction. Encourage workers to do research on the issues and not to share conspiracy theories or unfounded or debunked stories or rumors. Particularly regarding the pandemic, facts matter and will help keep people safe.
- Gauge the conversation’s temperature, particularly during social events. If things start to get heated, guide the discussion to a new topic.
Brush up on federal and state laws protecting certain types of speech. Make sure that employees know both their and the company’s rights and responsibilities. Encourage people to talk to a manager or HR representative if political talk in the workplace is causing problems for them or if they feel bullied by a colleague.
As the November election gets closer and more workers return to the office after the pandemic, these concerns are likely to exacerbate. Stay on top of the situation now, and you can avoid having to put out a fire later.