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Terror and Evolution: The Story of Politics in the Workplace

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Politics.

With the US elections just a week away, I’ve started to think more and more about how politics and the workplace intersect.

I’ve always been interested in the nuts and bolts of how companies operate. This is why, at its core, I chose HR over other business paths. People are the drivers of business they say so HR touches on people that drive the business from start to finish. The problem with having people drive your business is that they can often be incredibly unpredictable and can respond to the same stimulus in completely different ways. I am no psychologist but when it comes to how politics and the workplace interact with each other, I couldn’t think of a better case study. Consider these situations:

  • The company CEO sends an e-mail to the entire organization encouraging them to vote (and mentioning his favorite).
  • A president writes editorials in a newspaper in favor of one candidate.
  • A union representative uses scare tactics in encouraging members to vote a certain way.
  • A company’s executive team is intimately involved in lobbying in their industry.
  • The company’s political action committee (PAC) communicates with employees via mailers and workplace fliers.
  • Employees want to be moved away from each other after getting in a political argument.

All of these have happened to me in my professional life. This spans industries and job function (not all of these happened when I was in HR).

In the past, these things used to make me freeze up. I would ask myself a million questions: How are people going to react? Will the conversation continue past this instance? Will people start questioning my political beliefs if I don’t speak up? I would be cool in other workplace conflicts but when it came to politics, I would clam up. I honestly don’t know what my problem was.

I had to rethink the equation to really start to understand and embrace the role politics plays in the workplace. How’s that?

Politics directly impacts all aspects of the work environment. Consider the 40 hour work week or the tax incentives that mean the difference between being in business or shutting the doors? How about labor relations and pay equity? These are two major issues that will be impacted by the result of the elections in one week. The government giveth and the government taketh away. As long as the government impacts the workplace, unions, employees, executives and corporations all have a responsibility to be involved in the electoral process.

But how do you get involved in politics without employees feeling like you are big brother? There is a fine line to be walked

For Companies and Unions

  • Focus on accommodating discussion rather than driving it — Maybe one candidate is offering a business incentive to your company. Maybe another is advocating stronger union rights. You want to talk about these issues to show that political decisions will also impact the business and union. Throwing something out there and letting people discuss it in an open environment can go a long way rather than intimidation or scare tactics.
  • Make it time appropriate — Set aside a time and let people choose whether to participate or not. Some people may not be interested in discussing politics at work and that should be respected.
  • Be sensitive to alternative views — People choose to vote for a variety of reasons and you should respect those reasons. If someone is voting for a candidate that you believe will kill your business or union, people should still know that they will be judged on their performance, not political views.

For Executives and Employees

  • Don’t interrupt or dominate the conversation — If you are expecting to have a productive conversation about politics, you have to be able to listen. That includes not interupting, not dominating and being a polite listener in general.
  • Remember, you are still co-workers — You still get to work together, even after November 5th. Emotions can run high so it is best to keep a respectful tone. I’ve seen people get worked up over sports teams so politics isn’t much of a stretch.
  • Don’t use your position of power or subordinance as an excuse — If you are in a position of power in your organization, do not think you have a greater need to get your point of view across than anyone else. Similarly, if you are an employee, don’t let yourself be held back from a conversation because you may not have enough power in the organization.

I am looking forward to the conversations that will be happening this week coming into election day. I hope that you can find a way to enjoy the important discussions taking place as well.

By Lance Haun

Strategy for The Starr Conspiracy. Former HR pro. Portland guy (Go Blazers!) and WSU alum (Go Cougs!). I get to write about what I want here.

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