Stressed out about the upcoming presidential election? You are not alone. According to a recent survey from the American Psychological Association (APA), the race for presidency is stressing out U.S. workers and hurting business productivity. The survey states that more than 1 in 4 employees have been negatively affected by workplace conversations about the election and that divisions between generations and genders are causing rifts in their work environments.
As an employer, you can’t stop politics from spilling into the workplace, but you can take steps to be better prepared during this election season to minimize disruption. Here are a few tips to help guide employers in managing employee engagement and communications as the campaign unfolds:
Set the tone. Political views fall under the dimensions of Diversity and Inclusion. If your culture embraces mutual respect and appreciation for diverse perspectives, it’s important to set the tone that speech in the workplace, about politics or other topics, should be respectful and tolerant of all opinions. Discussions about candidates and the issues at hand can often become emotional triggers leading to bad behavior. If your employee handbook has a reference to policies about political activity, you may want to highlight that section and share this information as a reminder. Proactive communication on what is acceptable and what’s not will help to ensure that political discourse doesn’t disrupt your operations.
Reinforce social media guidelines. Employers should remind employees about the use of the company’s intranet and public social channels and the code of conduct for content, including political discussions. Most companies allow employees to associate themselves with the company when posting online but require them to clearly brand their comments as personal and purely their own. Some companies provide general guidance like Gap Inc.: “Be careful discussing things where emotions run high (e.g. politics and religion) and show respect for others’ opinions” where others like the L.A. Times are more specific to say: “Just as political bumper stickers and lawn signs are to be avoided in the offline world, so too are partisan expressions online.” Make sure your guidelines match your corporate culture and approach to overall communications.
Communicate new rules and changes to the law. Policy changes and additional regulations are almost guaranteed with a new administration. Employees may start to ask questions or speculate how they’ll be impacted once the presidential winner is announced. Since many of these issues involve pay, health care benefits, child care, etc. they are typically top of mind concerns for workers. While it will take some time for the rules to be in effect and for you to decide how they will impact your business, make sure you have developed a communication plan to implement once the changes are announced. Let employees know that you are gathering and evaluating the information and you will notify them when decisions are made. Once you know the changes, create clear and concise messages that help employees understand what it will mean for them, where to go with questions and for additional support such as training or tools and resources.
While it’s inevitable that political conversations and uncertainty around the outcome of the 2016 campaign will continue to be a hot topic in your workplace, being prepared and armed with policies and practices will hopefully mean a more peaceful election season.