Take a presidential election year, combine it with a global pandemic and the stage is set for workplace discussions to bubble over into heated discourse, even in a virtual environment. Between the daily stressors of COVID-19 and partisan tensions surrounding the 2020 presidential election, business owners and leaders need to be aware of how these factors can impact team performance and put steps in place to mitigate any issues.
With Election Day only months away, employers should develop a plan — aligned with customary office policies — to address the situation. Below are eight tips for employers to reduce stress in the virtual workplace and traditional office setting, helping to keep tensions at bay during this highly unusual election year.
Distribute Reminders to Reinforce Company Values
Although the surroundings may have changed and team communications are vastly different, employees should be reminded that the company’s mission, values and policies remain the same, especially as they relate to political discussions. It can be very easy for Zoom meetings, conference calls and one-on-one communications to become sidetracked if a colleague brings up election-related comments.
Review and Update Office Policies
Review the current company policies that relate to political activity and consider updating them to include the virtual workplace. Employers may also consider proactively communicating expectations with employees and sharing examples of unacceptable behavior to help limit potential issues. Make it clear that these actions cannot interfere with work or impact productivity.
Lead by Example
Company executives, leaders and managers should remember that they set the tone, not only in the office but also during virtual meetings. Executives may consider asking their managers to be mindful about comments on political matters. Conversely, if a supervisor is extremely vocal about his or her politics, it can potentially open the door for staff to follow suit.
Businesses should remain neutral and avoid taking an official stance on a particular candidate or political issue. Otherwise, current and future clients or even employees who do not share a similar view can feel alienated. In addition, companies should consider discouraging political clothing and paraphernalia in public spaces and for employees who have direct contact with clients and vendors. In a virtual setting, this translates to background images and attire that are visible during Zoom meetings.
Be sure that managers are aware of the policies in place and that they are properly trained to handle any potential conflicts that may arise. When responding to tensions, managers should always respect boundaries and remember that employees should not be asked about their political affiliations. Leaders can carefully point out any concerns to an employee and explain how his or her actions were not in alignment with company policies.
If tensions arise, it is important to respond right away. Investigate any employee complaints that come up but remember to focus on the workplace behavior rather than on differing political opinions. While the virtual workplace can present more of a challenge, it is crucial to address the situation promptly to avoid an escalation in the matter, which can happen very easily in this type of environment.
Encourage Workers to Take A Break
It is no surprise that working remotely can be stressful, especially during a pandemic — when the whole family may be sharing the workplace — and in a presidential election year. When TVs are on in the background providing a constant stream of news about COVID-19 numbers and political coverage, it can become a distraction and even increase stress levels. Employers should consider encouraging workers to take a break from traditional news coverage, social media channels and web surfing to help maintain focus and reduce anxiety.
While a company cannot prohibit political discussions completely, leadership may consider asking employees to limit political talk or activity to the lunch hour, other work breaks or after hours. It is also important to remind staff to respect the views of others. If employees openly make their political affiliations known, do not assume that staff members who support the same candidate also share similar views on all the issues. Employees and employers alike should respect colleagues’ views and not attack another person’s political affiliation or beliefs.
These eight tips for navigating political discussions in the workplace should help businesses set expectations to minimize election-related tensions and lead to a healthier workplace in which political strife does not affect employee morale and productivity.
Mike Baize is manager of human resource services at Insperity, a trusted advisor to America’s best businesses for more than 34 years, provides an array of human resources and business solutions designed to help improve business performance.