Monday, May 9, 2016

Office Politics

Politics is not the art of the possible. It consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable.    
~John Kenneth Galbraith

Office politics may be something we all talk about – but in an election year, particularly this election year, the expression takes on a whole new meaning.  Strong opinions and reasonable criticisms (about both front-runner candidates) can cause employees to polarize.  Even employees who typically get along may find themselves involved in tense discussion, or worse.  

Friendly conversation or current events can lead to a heated debate.  Clashing opinions between employees at different levels of the organization can lead to feelings of insubordination or intimidation.  And with social media - posts on Facebook now bring colleagues into awareness of each others Political leanings even if not disclosed in the office 

Worse still, consider your most forceful and opinionated staff.  Might they engage in political conversations with the intent of persuading others to (or away from) a candidate?  

What happens when any of these situations gives way to repeat interactions?  Things become far more complicated.  While some staff may successfully stay out of the fray or fervently refuse to share their opinions, others may feel pushed, challenged, or bullied by these interactions.

Though we might hope that all of this will blow-over, we are months away from the general election.  And it is these on-going office politics that threaten to derail a business as they undermine morale, hinder teamwork and damage productivity.  They may even lead to more troubling (and potentially litigious) behaviors – all of which are sure to linger beyond Election Day.

The best strategy for keeping these office politics at bay is to get in front of them and plan ahead (as much as is still possible). 

1. Review your company policy on social or political behaviors at work.  This may also overlap with your policies on diversity.  Are there policies addressing the use the display or demonstration of affiliations, etc.?  Do you need to revise these?

2. Determine what constitutes acceptable company behavior.  Some thoughts to consider:
  • If friendly debate/conversation is allowed, is it limited to lunch and break rooms?
  • Can a person post their affiliation in their office/cubicle?
  • Is staff allowed to congregate or campaign on company grounds?
  • How does title/role play a part in determining what a person can/can’t say?

3. Consult your corporate attorney.  While 1st Amendment Rights were created to establish political freedom, the workplace is not public property and therefore is not the appropriate forum for enacting those rights.  What steps can you take?

4. Engage your staff.  Be clear with all staff about the company’s position regarding these actions.  Create a clear path for staff to follow should any concerns arise.  Be specific about rules and consequences.

5. Be Consistent.  Nothing is more troubling or will lead to more discord than allowing some individuals to express their beliefs freely while other are held accountable.  This is especially true if the rules seem to favor a certain individual, a particular rank within the company, or a given political party.

1 comment:

  1. Good counsel, Candice! I would like to know your thoughts about what an HR person might do if the top exec is the one who is expressing a political preference (i.e., having lawn signs for particular candidates delivered to his/her office for all to see or displaying bumper stickers in his her office?) Sure, you could talk to the exec with the usual "y'know you can't do it if the employees can't") but is there a better approach?