Oh, 2020. Thanks to a world-wide pandemic, clashes over racial injustice, economic struggles and more, it’s become one of the most politically charged election years in decades. Yet somehow we have made it to this day, November 3 – aka Election Day.
While we’re used to people expressing their political views in their personal lives, this year it’s become more and more common for employees to do so in the workplace as well (both in-person, if they’re back in the office, and virtually). Recent research by Robert Half found that 22% of professionals feel it’s appropriate to discuss politics with colleagues, while 26% believe it’s never okay and just over half (53%) feel it depends on the situation.
Regardless of who wins this election, you can bet that employees will be expressing their feelings over the coming days and weeks. If they haven’t already, companies need to decide how to navigate the issues this can cause among employees with differing views, while also allowing for legitimate, respectful political expression. It can be a tough line to walk, and many brands – like Goodyear, Newport News Shipbuilding, Starbucks, Wholefoods and Costco, to name a few – have already dealt with employee and public backlash related to this issue this year.
While there’s no right or wrong answers, here are some considerations and recommendations for companies:
- Consider the perceptions – When thinking through what your policy should be, be mindful of the potential implications. Banning all political and cause-related attire/expression can help you create a neutral work environment that minimizes conflict. However, it may also lead to employees and the public accusing brands of not supporting causes or values that they see as transcending politics. Employees today not only want to express all aspects of themselves in the workplace – they also want to work for companies whose values align with their own. Think about how your policy aligns with your values, and how it may be perceived externally.
- Have a clear policy – When it comes to attire and other physical forms of political expression in the workplace, make sure your policy clearly states what is and isn’t allowed. If you’re not implementing a full ban and will allow certain types of cause-related attire, make sure you articulate exactly what does and does not fall under that definition.
- Be consistent and equitable – Consistency and equality are vital in this situation; you can’t make exceptions for one political party or cause over another. For example, if you’re going to allow employees to wear apparel supporting Black Lives Matter, you have to allow other employees to wear apparel supporting the causes they care about, too.
- Beware of banning political talk – While it may sound easier to put a ban on all political talk in the workplace, it can be difficult to enforce, as employees will have a hard time not discussing it, especially during an election year. Plus, banning it can come off as trying to stifle people’s personal views and values. Diversity and inclusion are more important than ever in today’s workplace. And while most think of this in terms of race, gender, etc., keep in mind that it also includes diversity of thought and opinion.
- Provide guidance for conversations – Instead of banning all political talk, provide employees with guidance for how to handle political conversations and uncomfortable situations in a respectful way. Encourage them to keep political conversations light and respectful, and to change the subject or remove themselves if a conversation becomes confrontational. They should also feel comfortable declining to participate in political conversations if that’s their preference. Considering adding such guidance to your employee code of conduct polices if it’s not already there.
- Don’t forget about social media – People have been posting their opinion on social media for years, but particularly in this new virtual world, it’s important to revisit your social media policy. Does it extend to people’s personal accounts, or only to those officially linked to the brand? Think about how you’ll handle certain kinds of remarks from employees or confrontational public conversations between employees. Again, reminding employees of social media polices can help mitigate such issues in an election year.
Every month, we’re highlighting stories, trends and tips related to employee engagement and workplace culture that organizations should be keeping top-of-mind in order to engage, retain and recruit top talent. Check back next month for more.