by Nancy Owen, PHR
Political discussions are becoming heated and emotions are flying high as of late. In fact, such discussions are a quick way to create unwanted tension and very real problems in the workplace. As with any conversation that gets emotional, discussions that mix politics with individual principles and values are bound to offend someone.
The country is divided right now and it seems that people have stronger views than ever. We can put the blame on the candidates. Donald Trump has thrown “politically correct” statements out the window and has offended people of many religions and ethnicities. On the other hand, Hillary Clinton supporters are quick to accuse critics of hatred of women.
At the top of the candidates’ lists are conversations about same sex marriages. That is one of the many conversations that are off limits in the workplace. Conversation about this sensitive topic can make some employees feel bullied or isolated which will cause a lot of friction, a lack of productivity and will lead to biases between the employees. In some circumstances, ongoing offensive talk could contribute to a hostile work environment.
What can management do?
Of course your employees have a right to freedom of speech and attempting to ban political discussions all together may not be the way to go. As an employer, however, you have a legal duty to take action when complaints are made about harassment or discrimination based on race, gender, ethnicity and religion. Politics and the discussions happening among candidates this year are sparking many conversations about race, religion, gender and sexuality. If those conversations in the workplace get heated, it won’t take much for them to be perceived as harassment.
It is best to be proactive now before there is an issue. Have a conversation with your employees about respecting each other, regardless of their political or ideological positions. Teach your employees to carefully weigh their words and to be considerate of how their words and actions may impact others. Management sets the tone. Always create an inclusive work environment by respecting your employees. Adopt a positive and resolution-driven approach to all issues and conflicts in the workplace.
Most of your employees probably feel that a healthy level of respect is the most important ingredient for workplace happiness. Respect is linked to recognition and engagement and is essential to creating a strong organizational culture. When you recognize your employees for their good work, aren’t you really respecting them for what they contribute? Otherwise they can feel disrespected and insignificant.
At the end of the day, just teach your employees to treat people as they would want to be treated . . . the same no matter what their race, religion, gender, size, age, or country of origin. Implement policies and procedures that clearly set the standard and then enforce them consistently so your employees will feel that they are treated fairly and equally.
If you would like help creating an anti-harassment policy, or help with any other HR issue, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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