HR Leads Business

Sep 27, 2018 | Barry Lawrence, MBA, aPHR, Staff Writer

Political Discussions at Work Require R-E-S-P-E-C-T

There is one thing we can all agree on: The current climate of political discourse has often brought out the worst in people.

Political opinions have created unprecedented rifts between friends and family members. But what about political discussions at work?

Views are mixed, finds an Indeed poll of 2,000 U.S. employees. More than half of employees – 54 percent – say they are generally comfortable with the current level of political discourse at work. Only one-in-five say there should be more censorship.

Passions are certainly running high these days in a growingly tribal society. Some experts believe we are living in a "Cold Civil War" period. This puts human resource managers in a tough spot — to keep discussions respectful.

Lead by Example

"Educate your employees on the value and importance of having a diverse and inclusive environment," advises Courtney Mudd, Director of Human Resources at Influence & Co., commenting as a member of the Forbes Human Resources Council. "Let them know that dialogue is encouraged, but the office is not the environment for debates. If employees aren't open to hearing different points of view, they should refrain from starting and/or joining the conversation."

Heather Bussing, contributing as an HRExaminer analyst on the topic of politics and work, reminds us that harassment, bullying and discrimination – even of the political variety – should not be tolerated.

The danger, she says, is that "we are starting to equate humans with their political views. This is a mistake. We should judge people by what they do or fail to do, not what they believe or whom they voted for."

Her advice includes encouraging people to "take a break from politics while they are at work" and eliminating hate speech. "Some people," she says, "are feeling emboldened to make derogatory remarks to minorities, [the LGBTQ community], the disabled and women. If there are extenuating circumstances, few days or a week of unpaid leave can be an effective deterrent to future problems. Otherwise, this should be grounds for immediate termination."

Keep in mind, as well, that political affiliation is a protected class in most states.

HR Must Advise

HR plays an important role as advisor and counselor in the politically charged world we now live in. Political harassment, like other offensive behaviors, can be thwarted with proactive measures to remind employees of "right and wrong" behaviors.

On the plus side, people are more politically motivated and involved than ever before. But political passion should not become disrespectful or disruptive to the point where it creates a hostile work environment or even turns workers against each other.

Educate employees, managers and leaders that diversity and inclusion also require openness to different political points of view. After all, the customers that our organizations serve also diverse political opinions.

"R-E-S-P-E-C-T," as the late Aretha Franklin would say, is what we all need in this highly heated political environment. Just a little bit can go a long way.