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Bringing Political Civility into the Workplace

HR can make all the difference

A woman is talking to a man in an office.

​We can all agree that 2020 has been an unforgettable year. With the 2020 presidential election coming to an end, it's also clear that we are politically divided as a nation. Political discussions tend to spill over into the workplace, which can have an impact on working relationships. On top of everything else that HR is already dealing with, many of us are being called on to help bring political civility back into the workplace. Here are three suggestions for making a difference:

  • Consistent and fair treatment of people's opinions. We all have varying opinions on the direction of the country and the outcome of the 2020 election. Organizations and HR should enforce workplace policies fairly and consistently, treating all opinions with respect. Employees' support of or opposition to political candidates should not result in discipline or termination. Ensure that there is no workplace bullying or retaliation. Hold everyone accountable. Competencies that promote communication, relationship-building and leadership will help lay a foundation for civility in the workplace.
  • Health and wellness. If the past is any indication of the present or future, political controversies affect the health and wellness of employees. Continue to make employees' emotional, mental and physical wellness a top priority at the end of 2020 and throughout 2021. Make information about wellness tools and resources available throughout the organization.
  • Proactive conflict management. Acknowledge that there will always be underlying conflicts and disputes throughout the workplace. Embrace proactive techniques for managing them. While conflict is inevitable, the way we approach conflict management is a personal and organizational choice. Manage conflict fairly and consistently, just as you enforce workplace policies. Use effective communication methods, including following up and closing the loop. Don't let conflict build; if you allow it to do so, it will escalate into an explosion, which is simply unacceptable. Treat people the way you want to be treated—it really is that simple.

My personal approach to politics in the workplace: I do not discuss it, neither in my classes as a professor nor with most of my clients as a consultant. Students, organizations and workforces have their own opinions on politics, and embracing or not embracing these opinions is a losing model for an HR professional.

HR can set the tone for political civility in the workplace, regardless of your personal political preferences. Approach conflict one day at a time. Respect differences, make wellness a priority and manage conflict proactively.

Matthew W. Burr, SHRM-SCP, owner of Burr Consulting LLC in Elmira, N.Y., and co-owner of Labor Love, LLC, is an HR consultant, an assistant professor at Elmira College, and an on-call mediator and fact-finder for the New York State Public Employment Relations Board. He holds master's degrees in business administration and human resources & industrial relations, and a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt.


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