This presidential election cycle has been more distracting and contentious than most — and it’s causing problems in the workplace, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article.
Bosses are put in a position to mediate political disputes between coworkers and are “struggling to keep employees civil and productive,” John Simons and Rachel Feintzeig report.
At the same time, there’s no denying that HR needs to be paying attention. No matter who wins, the outcome will have a big impact on policies affecting HR, according to an in-depth analysis by HR Dive.
But it is a productivity problem if employees are constantly checking their phones for the latest news and polling results, or starting political arguments with coworkers.
“As employees are talking, there’s sort of a sense of despair and exasperation about the candidates and what’s going on. And so that’s making its way into the workplace as well,” SHRM’s Evren Esen said in an NPR interview this week.
How can you cut through the negativity in the next week? Engage distracted employees this Election Day by highlighting the day as a celebration of civic duty. Read on for tips on how to keep the tone positive, gratitude-filled and work-focused!
Three Ways to Engage Employees on Election Day
Workplace tension from the presidential election is more than just anecdotal. A survey by the American Psychological Association (APA) found that more than 1 in 4 employees have been negatively affected by workplace conversations they’ve had about the race.
“The APA survey results, released in September, found strong gender differences,” SHRM’s Lisa Petrillo writes. “Twice as many men as women reported that political talk was upsetting them enough to make them less productive at work. Further, almost twice as many men reported feeling isolated from co-workers because of political discussions at work and noticing increased workplace hostility.”
Younger employees are also more likely to be stressed by political talk at work than older people, the survey found.
Your goal in the next week is to ensure employees are comfortable and engaged in their work, not stressed and too upset to work. First, begin to engage distracted employees by setting clear guidelines for discussion and behavior.
1. Protect Your Workplace with Clear Policies
Employers cannot prohibit concerted political speech but they can “draw some lines,” according to SHRM. The National Law Review is a great place to start for help in creating a company policy: earlier this week it published legal guidelines on political dialogue in the workplace.
But beyond company policy, be sure managers and company leaders are promoting respectful, positive communication among employees. If politics do come up, managers should steer the conversation away from blue vs. red talk.
2. Promote Positive Communication
Sarah O’Neill of Digital Trends recommends “a humanized approach” to political discussion in the workplace.
Instead of partisan bickering, have employees “discuss big-picture concepts, specific ballot measures or general concerns,” she writes. By keeping it personal with “I-statements” and focused on details, “employees can have constructive, educational conversations that help others (even those with opposing views) see their side.”
Learning to discuss complex, volatile topics in a positive, constructive way in the workplace has benefits that will last beyond Election Day.
“Practicing these discussions may even help them in other work conversations and difficult situations in the future,” O’Neill writes.
One helpful tool in managing difficult discussions is gratitude. Simply acknowledging someone’s view and listening is a powerful way to turn around a potentially negative interaction, according to the Harvard Business Review article “What’s Worse than a Difficult Discussion? Avoiding One.”
Politics can bring up big passions — including passion for an opinion you may not agree with. Instead of completely avoiding tough discussions with the politically passionate in your workplace, acknowledge that their strong opinions are a sign they care deeply.
A celebration is a surefire way to hit “reset” in the workplace and engage distracted employees. A celebration re-engages employees in the company culture and provides them with structured time to be social and let loose. Everyone goes back to work, rejuvenated and refocused!
Many companies allow employees to take time off to vote, including auto manufacturers Ford and General Motors, publisher Thrillist, music-streaming service Spotify and fashion design company Tory Burch. (Tory Burch, founder of the company, wrote a Wall Street Journal editorial on her initiative to encourage voting among employees. She also talked about it in a recent Bloomberg Daybreak interview.)
But even if your company doesn’t have a time-off policy for voting, you can celebrate voting rights with a low-key celebration that’s similar to a 4th of July workplace celebration.
Engage employees with a celebration focused on the act of voting, not politics. Nonprofit VOTE says organizations “can help boost turnout by creating a celebratory atmosphere on Election Day.”
“People are more likely to vote if it seems popular or exciting or if their peers are doing it. This kind of vibrant environment is key to generating enthusiasm — it will not only encourage voters to head to the polls, but will also engage those who have already cast a ballot,” according to a Nonprofit VOTE blog post.
Some tips from Nonprofit VOTE on planning an Election Day celebration at your company:
- Help employees be prepared. Provide info on finding polling locations or getting a ride to the polls.
- Decorate with red, white and blue. Use streamers, balloons, and posters to create a festive atmosphere.
- Have giveaways. Add giveaways to the celebration, like stickers that say “I Voted” or “I’m Voting Today.” If you have party games or contests, be sure to have small gifts on hand to give out as prizes.
- Provide food. Bring in an American flag cake, red-white-and-blue-sprinkled cupcakes, “I Voted” cookies or other Election Day-related treats.
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