The current political climate has created real divisiveness as of late. I talk to employers everyday who indicate to me that the frustration is not limited to the pontifications on the U.S. Senate floor; it is invading our work spaces. Media coverage is blaring from the TV in the break room and streaming to everyone’s personal computers. As a consequence, employees end up expressing some of their political views at work. The free exchange of ideas becomes problematic when political expressions drive a wedge between coworkers. Currently we are a country that is divided in many ways philosophically and expressing politics in the workplace can lead to detrimental effects for workers. As such, the goal for any business owner now becomes: How do I keep my workforce united when the rest of the country may not be?
Something I talk about often is the corporate culture of an organization – the internal belief and value system that helps to drive an organization’s mission and more importantly, works as a road map to guide the behavior of your workforce. It’s one of the most valuable tools a company can use to mold their workforce, but it can also take on a life of its own when not properly maintained. Regardless of what is happening outside of your organization, you, as a business leader, need to be able to maintain a level of control over your work environment by building strong values, using those values to guide all employment related decisions, and by leading by example.
What policies and procedures should my workplace handbook have in place?
Review your handbook policies regarding politics in the workplace. While I wouldn’t suggest a blanket “No Political Speech in the Workplace” policy, you can create a policy that focuses on disruption as a basis for discipline and/or termination. When political discussions create a situation that is distracting, employees can be held accountable. Treat the disruptive political behaviors in the same way you would treat any other disruption – nope, not today! You are paying your employees to do a job and any distraction that disrupts productivity can and should be addressed.
As for a mantra that could be easily perceived as unlawful harassment – business owner beware! Case in point, a business owner I consulted with described a scene in the company break room where several employees started chanting, “build the wall” in response to a news report on the TV. Several, clearly alienated coworkers watched disturbed nearby. Some of the workers even retreated from the common area to avoid the scene. Conversations or in this case “chants” were maybe actually intended to be lighthearted or benign to those participating in them. However, regardless of the intentions, politics in the workplace such as these could leave those witnessing them feeling intimidated or even harassed. Unchecked harassing behavior is a very real threat to any organization. Make sure that you have a solid anti-harassment policy and reporting procedure in place. Now is your opportunity to hold the annual anti-harassment training, making sure not to skip over the disciplinary part.
How do I make the right decisions for my employees?
It’s important to remember that our differences are just as valuable as what we have in common. While we cannot force people to change their beliefs or behaviors, we can set healthy boundaries that help to maintain positive work environments. Focus on the contributions of the employee rather than their personal beliefs and use corrective action when needed. There is no quick fix other than identifying negative behaviors and acting quickly to squash them. Reinforcing proper behaviors will go a long way to setting the acceptable standard.
Give us a call today at 505.715.5700 or schedule a consultation with an attorney to get your HR questions answered.