Group Gordon’s Kerry Close discusses the new norms for talking about politics in the workplace.
Conventional wisdom dictates that politics is traditionally off limits in public forums – the workplace chief among them. However, this year’s contentious election cycle called that long-held tradition sharply into question. The 2020 election shined a spotlight on the deep-seated ideological differences that persist in the U.S. – and how our country is almost evenly split in terms of political beliefs. Dealing with the already challenging circumstances caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans had a number of reasons to be distracted at work this fall.
As a result, the election forced companies to carefully reconsider whether and how to talk to their employees about politics and proactively offer support to them during this time. While previously they may have chosen inaction or brushed the issue aside, this year emphasized the need for concrete and strategic corporate policies and communication around elections.
For organizations willing to go the extra mile, this year’s election cycle offered a chance to demonstrate their empathy and commitment to their workforce during unprecedented times. Moving forward, it also offered several key lessons for companies as they navigate future election years, including:
Arguably the most significant step that companies can take in the lead-up to an election is to offer employees the flexibility and time they need to vote in the way that is most convenient for them, working around other personal responsibilities, such as childcare. Companies should communicate clearly, proactively, and well in advance of Election Day about their policies.
After the election – particularly this year, as the outcome remained uncertain for several days – it’s reasonable to expect that employees may have been up late glued to the TV and preoccupied with the results. As much as possible, managers should be cognizant of this reality and adjust deadlines and expectations accordingly. While companies should expect that employees will present a professional front at work, they may not be at their A-game while distracted by breaking news headlines. In acknowledging this fact, both workers and their employers reap the benefits of forming an even better place to work.
During a challenging time like a heated election cycle, it’s important to remind employees not to neglect their own mental health and well-being. Companies should communicate proactively with employees about taking advantage of existing wellness programs, like fitness benefits and virtual mental health counseling. For companies that may not have those resources in place, even simple measures can go a long way. These can include reminding workers to take breaks during the day, such as by going for a walk or cooking lunch – or even using a mental health day to recharge.
While in the past discussing politics at work may have been taboo, as the issues become more ingrained in the core of our day-to-day lives, it’s fair to expect that employees will want to discuss election results with their coworkers. Instead of discouraging these discussions, companies should be realistic that they will happen and, if appropriate, even consider providing an organized and civil forum for workers who so choose to discuss.
Though companies should be empathetic to the mixed emotions their employees may be feeling, they should be vocal and firm that respectful behavior is an absolute must. Especially as many workforces remain remote for the foreseeable future, it’s vital that senior leadership is the driving force in bringing employees together and providing a supportive environment for everyone during a contentious time.
As Americans are becoming more tuned into and highly interested in politics, employers must adjust their policies and responses accordingly. By focusing on transparent, clear communication – and stressing empathy and respect – the election cycle presents a chance for companies to display an extra level of support to their workforce and lead them through an uncertain and tense period.