3 Powerful Ways to Navigate Politics in the Workplace
By Meghan M. Biro
The whole country is stressed out, regardless of which side of the party line you stand. We’ve just gone through a moment of great political change — which, for a number of reasons, is causing employees some serious stress. According to a recent Paychex survey, 36% of men and 52% of women employees report experiencing elevated stress levels due to the presidential election.
While an organization’s leadership and management can’t necessarily change what’s happening outside the company, you can work to keep things calm inside your own walls. None of these are sweeping structural changes, and they won’t effect your bottom line. But they can help tone down the volume and get everyone back to work.
1. Stay Transparent
Regardless of how you align politically, ethics are ethics, and a clear message is a clear message – and a lack of both can cause a certain kind of discontent. Managers in particular have to make their methods and criteria abundantly clear to this workforce, which has generally been shown to value ethics and honesty.
It’s been well-established that millennials are looking for a workplace with a solid moral compass that aligns with their own. But this generation is growing up and having families now, so their values are evolving too. They are increasingly looking for companies that speak plainly, talk straight, and don’t undermine their own message on the sly, as the recent Deloitte 2017 study on millennials found. Possible approaches: a virtual chat or FAQ in which employees are invited to ask about policies they may not understand or need clarification on. Longstanding grievances sometimes start with a misunderstanding or a confusion. By taking the time to clarify, you’re sending a message that their understanding and input is important.
2. Keep It Positive
Too much arguing around the water cooler – virtual or not – can trigger some heady arguments, bringing the national stress levels back inside. Given that it’s rare for both sides of a political argument to find common ground, such conflicts can create some seriously disgruntled employees and damage the social cohesion of the office.
Instituting a “no political arguments” policy may seem a bit on the “police-y” side, but in a time of intense turmoil, it’s good to be able to step back and point to a rule to shut something down — before it can do too much damage. There will be employees that thank you, as well.
3. Don’t Renege On Your Own Promises
Most front-of-the-pack workplaces were on their way to evolving in terms of such issues as work/life balance before this year’s election happened. We spent the past few years learning about the need for diversity and inclusion, the problem with workplace bullying, and the importance of valuing employees as people with lives — a key characteristic of millennial culture. The Paychex WORX research also found that 58% of men and 67% of women believe the election results are having a negative impact on their own work/life balance.
Now’s the time to set up those flexible work hours or telecommuting options for new parents – or increase parental leave time — whatever ideas were in the pipeline. Another option: set up a Life Logistics Day, when stressed-out employees can take a deep breath and finally get the chance to ask an expert about a pressing issue — health care benefits, insurance, retirement accounts.
We’re a constantly connected culture now, and it’s impossible to isolate ourselves from the shrill or the unpleasant — a quick dive into social media can suddenly plummet one’s mood. The political climate has become increasingly polarized, which can mean increasing conflicts: one person’s protest is another person’s praise. Certainly we can’t take everyone’s smartphones away, after all — and no would we want to in a thriving democracy. On the other hand, the workforce has a job to do. Demonstrating that you value your employees and take a compassionate approach to their state of mind right now will go far to keeping them focused, no matter which side they are on.