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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

What do Sex, Religion and Politics Have in Common?

If you’ve been working for any length of time, you should know the answer to this question. In order to maintain a civil work environment with minimal stresses on relationships, it’s best to keep workplace conversations about sex, religion and politics to a minimum.

But here we are, just a few weeks from a major election - what should employers and employees be aware of in order to avoid conflict, lawsuits, loss of customers and maybe even employee turnover?

First, as an employer:
  • Be clear with policies that address solicitation, distribution of materials and harassment. Employees should understand expectations for what is deemed appropriate behavior in the workplace.
  • Be transparent with your staff about why politics should be addressed outside the office. Focus on productivity, customer relationships, trust, solid team relationships as all-important reasons for not falling into the trappings of verbal and non-verbal politics in the workplace.
  • A good practice is to encourage employees to be active in their communities, including political. Policies should advise employees to work within the constraints of laws when it comes to their volunteer work and political contributions. Further, employees should be inspired to participate and support the community issues and candidates of their choice, during non-work hours.
  • Be aware of the awkward position an employee is placed in when a manager invites them to a fundraiser or a speech. How are they supposed to say "no" without looking bad? Don’t go there. Allow employees to make their own decisions about where to spend their time and money.
  • Be considerate of the "brand" your organization is promoting and respect the boundary when it comes to mixing business with politics. Public announcements endorsing a candidate or an issue could result in offending customers. It isn’t worth the risk.
  • Encourage managers to appropriately address any political buzz they become aware of in the office. Allowing office conversations to start could lead to escalations, as well as confusion about what is and is not appropriate. Remember, passionate displays by employees for one candidate vs. another can inflict serious and unnecessary damage to workplace relationships and if viewed as a hostile work environment, could result in substantial financial penalties.
  • Promote an environment where employees are comfortable, positive and productive. Don’t let politics interfere with work, relationships or trust.

Employees also have a responsibility for properly managing politics in the office:

  • Leave the buttons and flyers at home. Non-verbal messages and symbols can be just as offensive as verbal remarks. Although not much can be done about bumper stickers, be aware they do send a message.
  • Be respectful of the practice that politics don’t mix well with work, and refrain from any enthusiastic expressions about campaign issues, personalities, or impact on work practices, regulations, etc. Be aware political talk can be viewed as offensive to co-workers, as well as customers, causing the situation to be experienced as a hostile work environment.
  • Social media has blurred the lines between personal and professional lives. Be careful in your postings to demonstrate respect for those friends, family members and work colleagues who might be "following" you. Remember, no matter what happens on the scene of national politics you are still going to have to interact and work with these individuals after the election. Don’t post anything that could negatively impact your relationships.
  • If you do have a work colleague that agrees with your point of view and is someone you believe you can comfortably speak with, hold those conversations for after work. You don’t want to make others, who might overhead you, uncomfortable.
  • It you stumble into a conversation where it becomes obvious you have a difference of opinion, take the high road and agree to disagree. Neither one of you is likely to persuade the other to change his or her mind, so just let it go.
  • Think twice before sending or forwarding an email that contains a political message or bias. If it isn’t work-related, don’t send it.
It’s wonderful to have a love of country that brings out passions for getting involved with the political process. However, let’s just help each other get through the next few weeks appreciating the freedom we have to agree to disagree in a respectful manner and use our passion, after hours, to support our causes.

This article was written by Deborah A. King, SPHR, CEO and Organizational Effectiveness Consultant with Evolution Management, Inc. Debbie and her team are energized about providing the guidance and support organizations need to be efficient and productive. If your organization is in need of change management, human resource management, or training consulting services, visit our website at www.evolutionmgt.com or contact Debbie for more information: debbie@evolutionmgt.com or 770.587.9032. EMI is a certified SBA 8(a) business and also holds certification as a woman-owned, small business through NWBENC.