Communication Breakdown: Is All the Trump Talk Stressing Your Staff & Sapping Their Time?
When the combative 2016 election culminated in a surprise Trump victory last November, the full range of human emotion—from grief to glee—played out in workplaces across America. Most people thought the inter-office political debates would ease as the calendar turned to 2017, but that just hasn’t been the case.
In fact, all the workplace talk and tension has only increased in the first few months of the Trump presidency, says a new American Psychological Association survey.
More than a quarter (26%) of workers say they felt tense or stressed out as a result of political discussion s at work since the elections, an increase from 17% in September 2016.
More than half (54%) say they’ve discussed politics at work this year, and for 40% it has caused at least one negative outcome, such as reduced productivity, poorer work quality, negative view of co-workers or increased hostility at work.
This year, more than 30% say they’ve witnessed co-workers arguing about politics and about a quarter say they now avoid certain co-workers because of their political views. This week’s attack on a reporter by a Montana congressional candidate only further highlighted the coarseness and vitriol that has become more “normal” in 2017.
“Our recent politics have had a major influence on poor behavior at in the workplace, but mainly by people who were so inclined in the first place,” said Dr. Dennis Davis, Ph.D., the director of client training for the Ogletree Deakins law firm, at the recent Labor and Employment Law Advanced Practices Symposium.
“It’s good for employees to talk about politics in a civil manner, but if the reason is to recruit people or to change their minds, that’s not healthy. And employees don’t know the difference until we teach them,” said Davis.
In addition to stressing your staff, the political drama is eating into their worktime. More than a third (33%) of U.S. workers say they spend more time on news websites and social media this year trying to keep up with the constant drumbeat of “breaking news” from Washington.
Political philosophy. More employees who identify themselves as liberals reported being stressed about political conversations (38%) compared with those identifying as moderate (22%) or conservative (21%).
Gender. Significantly more female workers report feeling more cynical and negative during the workday—9% before the election and 20% since. For male workers, 20% reported feeling cynical and negative before the election versus 23% now.
Can You Prohibit Political Talk at Work?
When it comes to keeping your workplace civil in politically contentious times, you must balance employees’ interest in speaking freely with your interest in maintaining order and productivity.
In short, don’t put a complete gag order on all political discussions. Such a policy is impossible to enforce, plus it will choke morale and could actually open up your company to a lawsuit. Instead, draft a policy that minimizes distractions, yet allows a certain amount of free speech. Then explain the policy to staff. Some tips
1. Have a business reason for any restrictions. Limit only those political expressions that might affect productivity or customer relations. For example, you can ask a cashier to remove a “Legalize Marijuana” button, but you can’t ask an employee to remove a “John Smith for Senator” bumper sticker from his car.
2. Be consistent and evenhanded. Inconsistency is tough to defend in court. For example, don’t make employees remove pro-Trump buttons, while allowing anti-Trump ones.
3. Provide guidelines. Clearly tell employees that all workplace speech—political or otherwise—must be respectful, accommodating and tolerant of others’ views.
4. Don’t retaliate against off-duty political activity. In many states, employees are protected against discrimination, harassment or firing based on their after-hours political views and activities.
Also train managers and supervisors to steer workers back to work when political discussions become heated or distracting. Further, political speech that is threatening or intimidating to religious, racial or ethnic minorities has no place in the workplace. Managers should be trained to recognize such speech and direct employees back to work.