In the past, we’ve advocated pretty strongly for the separation of politics and work— and for some pretty darn good reasons. That said, there is mounting evidence that politics at work may be the new normal, and this new business/political reality requires some new rules of engagement.
If you haven’t noticed, an increasing number of businesses and CEOs are now weighing in on White House policies. Meanwhile, millions of customers are choosing to vote with their dollars (and their loyalty) based on company values, including political views and activity.
Depending on what industry you’re in (employee benefits, anyone?), there are plenty of people who simply can’t avoid discussing certain policy implications with their colleagues, clients and customers, no matter how badly they may want to. It is literally part of their job.
If you’re working in an industry that’s affected by new legislation, a business that’s taking a particular stand, or an organization that is actively talking about these issues internally, here are some ways you can effectively navigate this new definition of office politics.
Set some ground rules
Are your employees spending a significant amount of time arguing, debating or talking about politics at work, either with clients or each other? Are things getting a little heated around the water cooler or in the break room?
Even if you think animated political discussion is a healthy endeavor, at some point you need to acknowledge that it could be affecting workplace productivity and morale. Worse yet, if anyone on your team feels singled out for their beliefs, you could be looking at a hostile workplace lawsuit.
According to SHRM, only 24% of professionals said their organizations have a written policy about political activities at work. And while this may be brand new territory for many businesses, it’s certainly worth considering.
Having a clear, consistently applied policy in place will help minimize lost productivity, employee conflict, and potential discrimination or harassment claims.
Stick to the topic at hand
If there is a particular issue or policy, such as healthcare reform, that affects how you do business, you don’t need to ignore it. What you do need to do is keep the discussion a.) relevant, b.) constructive, and c.) civil.
Talk about specific changes and the implications for how they could affect your industry, operations, and clients. Focus on what you can do to educate people about what is going on and mitigate any confusion or complications that may arise.
Criticize various technical aspects of the policies if you must, but then leave it there. Resist commenting on those who wrote, endorsed, or voted for those policies. Statements like “Obama was a dweeb!” and “Trump is a ding dong!” will solve nothing and get you nowhere.
If a controversial or political issue has no bearing on the work at hand, don’t let it get dragged into the fray. If you want to talk about other issues, wait until they are relevant in another business-related context— or have that discussion outside of work completely.*
*Please note: Rules of civility still apply.
Focus on Solutions
Take a problem-solving approach to all of your discussions. Constant complaining or fretting does nothing to help you achieve your goals. It can, however, make things much worse.
Recognize that there are people on your team who are already feeling discouraged about the potential outcomes of various political policies, actions, or climate. If you’re one of them, do your best to check your defeatist attitude at the door. If you’re not feeling deflated, try to have a little empathy for those who are.
The goal is to work together to fix problems, not cause additional anxiety.
Do your homework
If your job is directly affected by political decisions and outcomes, you had better know what the heck is going on. Educate yourself on relevant issues. Seek out credible sources and be sure to fact-check your information.
If your main news source is your brother-in-law’s neighbor or your Aunt Edna’s Facebook page, it’s time to up your game. As a trusted advisor to your clients, you cannot afford to be sharing inaccurate data, rumors, or half-truths.
Never assume the people you’re working with feel the same way you do politically.
Let’s face it. Even if you’re not personally affected by any of the new rulings, you probably have friends, family, clients, and/or colleagues who are. Their feelings may range from mildly disappointed to fairly disillusioned to completely devastated. Recognize this and be kind.
If you’re the one feeling sad, you too need to recognize that there are very likely people on your team who are excited about what’s happening politically. They may not understand why you’re so mopey. Don’t pin your disappointment on them personally. People are complex, issues are complicated, and politics are bigger than any one person, one issue, or one vote.
You may agree or disagree with your co-workers and their views, but the fact of the matter is this: When you’re at work, you’re all on the same team. So play nice, help each other out, and treat each other with respect. That way, everybody wins.
At Q4intelligence, we work with agencies who believe in looking beyond insurance to provide real solutions to today’s most pressing business problems. How? By transforming the relationship between brokers and HR professionals from a single annual transaction to a powerhouse of constant teamwork, communication and results.
If you’re interested in a true employee benefits partnership that will help keep your employees healthy and happy and make your company an employer of choice, let us know and we’ll introduce you to an agency in your area. If, by chance, there isn’t one in your neighborhood, no worries! We’re full of great ideas.
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