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Should We Talk About Politics At Work?

Post originally written for Tieja Inc. and adapted here - by Jennifer Babic

Political discourse is everywhere and we can’t escape the discussion. No matter if you’re opening Instagram, chatting with family, or conversing in your company’s virtual watercooler on Slack – you’re bound to see articles, memes and conversation on the ever-polarizing sociopolitical landscape.

Politics at Work - HR consultants

This got us thinking: Do employees expect their companies to support social and political causes

that align with their values? How can a company be the political voice of all their employees?

Should they try to be? Companies run the risk of alienating employees by taking a stand, but

can they really afford not to, when human rights are on the line?

Some companies, like Coinbase and their CEO, Brian Armstrong, have taken a “no politics” stance in an effort to get their teams to focus on their company mission. Others, like the beloved Ben and Jerry’s, have taken the opposite approach, making liberal sociopolitical stances part of their internal culture and centre stage on their marketing campaigns. In a workforce now predominantly comprised of millennials and younger, it feels tone deaf for companies to avoid acknowledging what is transpiring in the political landscape and news cycles. Offering up a “no-politics” solution is coming from a place of deeply engrained privilege, unafforded to masses of the population. So, where do employers go from here?

1) Gather leadership together and decide how you want to approach difficult or complex political topics as a united organization – sometimes it’s quite clear where certain leadership might stand on something, but a progressive company will make challenging discussions a healthy dialogue of ideas and democracy with all of their thought leaders at the table

o Remember: tie your stances back to your company Purpose, Mission, Vision and Core Values. This will make guiding the way a whole lot easier

o Understand: your stance will have an impact on your employees beyond what you may anticipate or plan for – lead with compassion and empathy and be open to feedback

2) Your employees may push for your org to do/say more and actually act (Read: maybe simply acknowledging a problem exits isn’t going to cut it anymore) In response, engage and invite all employees to discuss and ideate on what that looks like and what feels true to the organization’s values

o Think: group town halls and small breakout sessions to get ideas and discussion flowing

o Hire: a guide, counsellor or professional to support these discussions and then vote on which actions to take and then actually do them. Delegate a task force of individuals who are passionate about getting involved to spearhead initiatives

o Educate: have a running, open “brainshare” of resources, articles, educational links, books etc. to continue to encourage your employees to educate themselves and others on the topics that matter to them

Whether driven by leadership or not, chances are political conversation will come up in your workplace. It’s unavoidable in today’s political climate. If employees are having political discussions at work, the following can be helpful guiding principles to keep it PG and productive:

  •  Be calm and respectful in your communication (Don’t let things get heated, walk away before getting to that point)

  •  Follow up in private if something isn’t sitting well with you (Someone said something that bothers you? Give yourself some breathing room and then approach them in a safe setting to air it out)

  •  If you’re going to speak on a subject, do your research (try to avoid quoting outdated Onion articles your great aunt re-posted on Facebook)

Still not satisfied with leadership, company or employee messaging on damaging political topics? Here is a great article on tackling difficult conversations in the workplace, or rethinking your role, place and fit there altogether.

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