In today’s increasingly polarised political climate, should we broadcast our personal opinions in the workplace or stay silent?
Last year’s controversial US election saw politics brought to the forefront of many a discussion, leading to lines being clearly drawn between liberal and conservative thought streams. We previously examined the delicate balance between free speech and hate speech post election in HRM. At that time, however, Australians had the luxury of commenting on Trump or Brexit with relative geographical detachment. This year we have our very own divisive debate in the form of the marriage equality postal vote.
According to the Forbes Human Resources Council (FHRC) in the US, politics should be acknowledged and discussed transparently. Chicago based consultancy firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas agrees, with the CEO saying, “No company is going to post an explosive rule saying, ‘You can’t talk politics,’. But people recognise that you can damage your career if you are too vocal.”
How, then should HR go about creating a respectful political environment?
Firstly, management should set the tone by acknowledging that people may have opposing views, says Challenger. Failing to do so can constitute bullying. The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission says, “It is against the law to discriminate against anyone in the workplace because of their actual or assumed political beliefs or activities.” This is applicable at all stages of an employment lifecycle. HR should also make sure employees are aware of the organisation’s anti-harassment and bullying policy.
Secondly, FHRC recommends a light-hearted tone be used in workplace political discussions, where others can learn about opposing viewpoints by questioning rather than confronting. Respect and open-mindedness should be encouraged, and leadership should be trained to manage heated discussions should they arise. It should be made clear to employees that if they are unwilling to listen to different opinions they should not enter into a discussion. ‘Dialogue’ is the key word here.
Next, while it’s important to have external passions, in the end employees are really there to do their job. Leadership should try to direct overly political conversation to the effect said decision could have on business.
Small vs large offices
What impact does size have on maintaining political harmony? There are positive and negative aspects of both large and small organisations for managing political divisiveness. Research conducted by US based research firm Clutch found that while larger companies are better equipped to deal with political unrest in the office, they are also likely to have a more diverse group of opinions. Leadership at smaller organisations have the ability to talk directly with employees and quell disagreements as they begin. On the other hand, larger companies are more likely to have a greater amount of HR personnel who can better ensure policy is followed.
Several companies have made their opinion clear through their executive voice in the marriage equality debate, including Qantas, AGL and Coca-Cola. AGL chief executive Andy Vesey said, “We want all our people to feel welcome … we want all our people to bring everything they have [to work] and not to have fear.” However where does this leave “traditionalists”?
Perhaps it’s best not to take it too personally. Business rather than politics is likely the key driver, and it has been argued that being liberal is currently the astute move. New York University Professor of Marketing Scott Galloway says, “In the 80s, the right political posture for a company-as-a-person was to be kinda subtly conservative. The right political posture now, hands down, is to be increasingly not subtle, but overtly and explicitly progressive.”
Interested in the impact of diversity in the workplace? Learn more at AHRI’s Inclusion and Diversity Conferences in Canberra on 26 October and Melbourne on 2 November. Register online.