Handling Political & Covid-19 Workplace Discussions
Tips on keeping employees’ conversations on controversial topics civil
As employees return to the workplace, there may be heated discussions among co-workers concerning the upcoming elections, current events, or the pandemic. Due to this, arguments and outright hostilities may erupt. If tempers flare during these heated discussions, supervisors will need to know how to handle the situation. To reduce the potential for heated discussions, it is essential to have a policy in place regarding political discussions that includes consequences for violations.
Communicate with all staff any mandatory safety policies that apply to your worksite
Establish specific return to work policies and communicate clearly to all staff your new company policies and requirements for mask-wearing, social distancing, client and co-worker contact and any new cleaning/disinfecting procedures. Through communicating and clarifying company policies upfront, antagonistic discussions can be reduced. Remind staff that many of these workplace safety requirements are state and federally mandated. Compliance is required to remain in business.
Declare your worksite as a Safe Zone
As workplaces reopen, expect some divergent views from employees about whether they feel safe and comfortable returning to work. Remind staff that co-workers may be health-compromised, or may have a family member who is of high-risk, so they will have legitimate concerns about co-workers’ social distancing and mask-wearing practices. “Virus shaming” will not be tolerated. Due to health confidentiality laws, management and employees themselves are NOT required to share their personal health information.
Set a policy for which employees can Agree to Disagree
Remind staff of company policies, including local, state, and federal laws regarding employees’ rights to disagree and have differing opinions, but specify that the company will not tolerate arguing, intimidation, bullying, or other tactics that would be considered harassment. If employees insist on discussing politics, set ground rules such as no name-calling and mention that discussions should occur during break time and not during a staff meeting. Also, remind employees that if they become agitated it is best to end the conversation.
Communicate to your staff that you recognize and respect the diversity of opinions and beliefs
Political discussions may be difficult to avoid in a semi-social work setting, such as a team lunch or after-hours socializing between co-workers. A team that has a history of working together tends to have both professional and personal relationships, so they are often aware of one another’s political beliefs. Long-time co-workers usually know when to end a conversation. However, a new co-worker may not have that insight. Remind staff that while everyone has the right to voice their opinion, a workplace discussion of any kind—whether it be political or pandemic-related—that interferes with work will not be tolerated.
Expect emotional responses
This is an emotionally charged year, so do not wait for blow-ups to happen. Political views about a presidential election, world events, or the handling of a pandemic are, at their core, based on personal values. Instruct workers on how to approach difficult discussions by finding a common ground. Suggest workers begin the conversation by acknowledging that they are discussing a topic that is emotional for everyone. This creates a sense of empathy that can quickly diffuse a heated conversation. Remind workers that disagreeing on one or two issues is not indicative of all issues. Dedicating time to look for a common ground is an excellent technique to build cordial staff relationships.
Management must stay neutral
Managers and supervisors must remain neutral. Their job is to mentor and coach, not to give political advice. The responsibility of managers and supervisors is to help workers stay on track and get work done, not to discuss, argue, or side with their employees.
Let Cardinal help guide your business
Cardinal has many services you can use during this new business environment. We can help you craft new workplace policies, revise your handbook and help you mitigate Covid-19 safety risks. Cardinal can also keep you compliant with reporting documents for the new pandemic related employment laws and various loan/aid packages. We can also help you hire or rehire employees. Check out our resource pages with helpful links for employers and employees.
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