While social and environmental issues are often hot topics of conversation among employees these days, the contentious nature of today's political landscape means that, like it or not, employers must contend with the reality of politics.
Political discourse volatility can certainly distract workers and disrupt work. And with the midterm elections in our rearview mirror and the presidential campaigns on the horizon, politics will remain a topic of conversation for the foreseeable future.
We work intently to build our workplace cultures, but if we don't properly consider the threats to them, we risk failure. Political dissent can divide the very people we seek to unite. If people are going to talk politics at work—and I believe they are—then we must help them do it in a manner that does not erode workplace culture, workforce morale or performance.
Focus on Inclusion. If we are serious about establishing diverse and inclusive workplaces, we must open the door to political diversity and be willing to engage workers with varied opinions. We can't have different people in the building and exclude or silence them. This would only breed isolation and resentment. In an ultra-competitive labor market, we must avoid alienating anyone. When someone does not feel they can constructively express their political views for fear of retribution, that's the polar opposite of diversity and inclusion—it's division and exclusion.
Erect the Guardrails. Set guardrails for political discussions to create a space for people to express their opinions. Make the goal of these discussions understanding each other. Direct workers to share their views without tearing down someone else. If people want to share their viewpoints, they must also be committed to listening to others—not to judge or respond, but to understand. Make it clear this is not a persuasive endeavor. We are not here to convince someone that one side is right or wrong. The proper guardrails will help foster discussions that do not devolve into debates.
Demand Civility. The baseline for any discussion should be respect and civility. Workers should respect each other's opinions, particularly if they disagree. Protect your workforce from the toxicity and vitriol that often accompany heated political discussion. Indeed, we know everyone will not agree, and we can accept this. But we cannot accept personal attacks, escalating arguments and outright disrespect in our places of business. It is unprofessional, counterproductive and unwelcome.
Train Your People Managers. Equip your people managers with tools for de-escalation and conflict resolution. People managers should apply the same principles they have for racial and gender discrimination to these scenarios. Though it may not be easy creating workplaces that work for all, it most assuredly is worth it.