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Continued political turmoil is causing headaches at work. This is the second of three articles from Heather Bussing directed at organizations, HR, and individuals. Today’s article is the HR Survival Guide. Heather will conclude the series tomorrow with her individual survival guide. Now, let’s look at how HR can deal with all the political polarization in their companies.

Continued political turmoil is causing headaches at work. This is the second of three articles from Heather Bussing directed at organizations, HR, and individuals. Today’s article is the HR Survival Guide. Heather will conclude the series tomorrow with her individual survival guide. Now, let’s look at how HR can deal with the political polarization in their companies.

It started during the election and has just gotten worse. Politics creep into off-hand comments, cartoons circulate, everyone’s phone is open to facebook and twitter. The distraction and vitriol of the election was polarizing. People who used to laugh and joke together aren’t talking any more.

Since the inauguration, things have been moving so fast that if you are offline for a few hours, it’s hard to catch up. So people are spending more time consuming often conflicting news, then reading even more to figure out what is actually happening.

Distracted, exhausted employees trying to get work done is bad enough. But it’s the animosity and polarization that is giving HR headaches. Everyone has taken sides and is certain that everything wrong with anything is the other side’s fault.

We are starting to equate humans with their political views. This is a mistake. We should judge people by what they do or fail to do, not what they believe or whom they voted for.

HR’s job is to help manage the problems that political discussions can cause at work. The goal is to reduce drama, help everyone focus and get work done, and promptly deal with bullying, harassment, or discrimination.

Here are my suggestions for HR in dealing with politics and work.

Reframe.  Instead of issuing rules about not discussing politics or reminders that discrimination laws are still in effect, think of work as a place of refuge from the news and drama. Encourage people to take a break from politics while they are at work and have a little extra kindness and compassion for each other.

Use this as an opportunity to do training in communications, listening, conflict resolution, negotiation, and harassment. We could all use a refresher on these things. Now is especially good.

Respond to the Stress. It would be great if everyone was focused, driven, engaged, happy, and getting things done in record time. They aren’t. And it is not their fault. It is important to meet employees where they are. Whether they are distressed or delighted by current events, this is not business as usual.

Exercise, relaxation, and mindfulness all help people manage stress. Encourage people to get outside and walk or run over lunch instead of checking social media. Bring in a chair masseuse or have a daily drawing for spa gift certificates. Have mindfulness or meditation training and then set up a quiet room where people can come to sit and decompress. Ask employees for tips on how they manage stress and difficult conversations and publish them on the company intranet.

Telling people to stop freaking out does not work. Instead, acknowledge that your employees are having a hard time and encourage them to take care of themselves. Even if this costs the company some time and money, it will likely pay off in the long run by helping people get back to work and by preventing escalation of the distress.

Provide Outlets. Get a huge pile of postcards, some stamps, and the complete contact information for federal, state, and local elected officials. Give people an extra 15 minutes a day to call or send a postcard to the representative of their choice. Tell them they don’t get to argue about it with each other, but they are welcome to let their views be known to the people who are making the decisions.

Decline Drama.  It is inevitable that someone will say or do something offensive to someone else at work, away from work, and on social media. If the issue does not directly involve the company or some kind of illegal conduct, then listen politely and decline to get involved. If appropriate, encourage people to get help for depression and severe anxiety.

Respect Dissent.  If your company takes a political stand, know that there will be some employees who find that intolerable, no matter which side the company takes. Some will get frustrated and depressed; others may want to quit. It’s important for organizations to let all employees know that their contribution is valuable and that the company respects their beliefs. Encourage people to take their time to decide whether they want to stay, and let them know that you will give them time to make the transition to a new job if that is what they need to do.

Stop Hate Speech.  Harassment, bullying, and discrimination are not okay. If it is happening at work, come up with a plan for dealing with it promptly and effectively. Some people are feeling emboldened to make derogatory remarks to minorities, gay people, the disabled, and women. If there are extenuating circumstances, few days or a week of unpaid leave can be an effective deterrent to future problems. Otherwise, this should be grounds for immediate termination.  Remember, political affiliation is also a protected class in most states, so talk to your employment lawyer in devising your plan and whenever it’s necessary to discipline someone.

There is no magic formula for helping people cope with politics and focus on work right now. The best approach is to acknowledge the reality and help people through it. Handle problems on a case by case basis and be sure to take care of yourself in the process.

Further Reading

Turns Out There’s Political Discrimination and Harassment Too Great post by Heather Kinzie at Performance I Create on protections for political affiliation.

Us v. Them

Drama Management: Dealing with Problem Employees

You’re Doing It Wrong: The Cult of Nice

Employee Privacy: When It’s Personal

Employee Privacy: What Can Employers Monitor


Read the entire series:


    1. Politics & Work 1: Organization Survival Guide


    1. Politics & Work 2: HR Survival Guide


  1. Politics & Work 3: Individual Survival Guide


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