In today’s world, opinions about political matters are practically everywhere. One place they shouldn’t dominate, however, is the workplace. Here are some of the basics that HR employees should know about handling political disputes.
Why Do Overly Political Employees Present a Problem?
An employee who holds a controversial political opinion isn’t a problem by necessity. The problem arises when that employee discusses his or her views at length in the workplace, often making other workers uncomfortable in the process. At that point, political conversations between that employee and others can disrupt the normal flow of business.
Though most political controversies at work will only produce minor problems, some can get out of hand. One of the most prominent recent examples of major disruptions caused by political differences in the workplace is that of James Damore, the Google software engineer who was fired for circulating a memo detailing his views on the tech giant’s mandatory diversity training sessions. Once the incident became public knowledge, Google’s policies became the center of national political discussion.
How Can HR Handle Politically Outspoken Employees Without Ostracizing Them?
Finding the right balance between promoting workplace harmony and not silencing employees for their views can be difficult. There are, however, some common steps that human resources managers can take to prevent political controversies from compromising normal business activities. The first, and most important, is to establish and enforce a clear company policy on workplace political discussions. This policy shouldn’t restrict what employees do off the clock, but should make it clear that political activities or discussions that disrupt the working environment will be subject to disciplinary action.
HR managers should also set and communicate clear rules about using company names in connection with political activities. If, for example, an employee writes into a newspaper forum and discloses his or her place of employment in connection with the views expressed there, that activity reflects directly on the company. In this capacity, the private activities of the employee affect the company’s public image, and so are subject to internal company policies.
In cases where employees fail to comply with reasonable company policies regarding political activities, the discipline needs to be fair but compelling. Though the punishment for disrupting the workplace and the work of other employees should be significant, don’t make the disciplinary action about the non-compliant employee’s opinions. Instead, use it to reinforce the idea that the company is and will remain politically neutral. By taking this approach, you’ll be more likely to gain future cooperation from the disciplined employee. An approach that seems to punish his or her views themselves, on the other hand, will likely only produce resentment.
Actions to Take:
- Establish and enforce a clear company policy on workplace political discussions.
- Set and communicate clear rules about using company names in connection with political activities.
- Establish fair but compelling disciple for departing from company policy.