5 Tips for Maintaining Civility at Work During Election Season

by Sep 11, 2020

Your workforce is bound to have varying opinions around the issues our nation is facing, which inherently creates a higher risk of conflict and disrespectful behavior.

On top of COVID and #BLM, we’re just months away from a very emotionally-charged presidential election. In fact, we’ve had several requests for training on respect and allyship from some savvy HR professionals who are thinking about the impact November’s big event will have on their workforce.

Over the years, I’ve experienced many elections and witnessed first-hand how they can pull people apart. In 2016, we worked with a group of women who had ousted one peer due to party lines. Political discussions had gotten heated, and these women were completely divided and unable to restore their work friendships.

I don’t know about you, but I keep seeing recommendations for employers to address politics at work with a political speech policy, but there’s so much more your organization could be doing to keep things civil in turbulent times. It’s unrealistic to think a policy on its own will change employee behavior.

So here are five tips for keeping your workplace civil during the election season:

  1. Set ground rules with your team around civility in the workplace. Ground rules can be created at any time to encourage respectful, professional communication and behavior from employees. At your next staff meeting, have a conversation about what is and isn’t appropriate at work. Ask your team how they want to be treated by their peers and managers and gather their commitment to upholding these new ground rules. 
  2. Immediately address conversations that cross the line. Every time someone is allowed to behave poorly, the chance of the behavior continuing or escalating increases. Having conversations around politics isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s the way that the conversations unfold that can be dangerous. If two parties can have a civil conversation about their opinions and agree to disagree and move forward, that’s healthy – and is part of a truly inclusive environment. The moment you hear something disrespectful, uncivil, or escalated, however, step in. 
  3. Find ways to mitigate bias. It’s natural for us to favor those who are similar to us, including those who have similar political views. This can result in managers promoting people who are similar to them in politics, favoring them for better projects, and overall having a more positive perception of them versus those with opposing political views. While it’s impossible to eliminate implicit bias, it is possible to put protocols in place to mitigate bias, such as having a diverse group of decision-makers when it comes to promotions. 
  4. Train managers to mediate conflict. With the upcoming election, conflict is inevitable. I mean, I can’t be the only one who’s social media feed is covered in political arguments. These arguments are bound to spill over into the workplace, and while conflict can be healthy, it can also stifle productivity and hinder collaboration. In other words, it hurts your employees and it hurts your business. Managers need useful tools for addressing conflict and coaching employee behavior when it gets out of line.
  5. Train everyone on being an ally and stepping up when incivility occurs. We’ve been getting requests for training on this topic for good reason. You can ask your workforce to speak up if they feel wronged, mistreated, or not heard, but without the tools – and explicit and implicit permission from their employer – to do so, the chances of them doing it are slim. Provide both tools and permission through a training on how to step up.

It all boils down to fostering a culture that allows for the expression of opinion, but in ways that are accepting and inclusive. And, all of your employees are responsible for creating that accepting and inclusive culture.


Catherine and Rebecca

About Catherine Mattice

Catherine Mattice, MA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP is President of consulting and training firm, Civility Partners, and has been successfully providing programs in workplace bullying and building positive workplaces since 2007. Her clients include Fortune 500’s, the military, several universities and hospitals, government agencies, small businesses and nonprofits. She has published in a variety of trade magazines and has appeared several times on NPR, FOX, NBC, and ABC as an expert, as well as in USA Today, Inc Magazine, Huffington Post, Entrepreneur Magazine, and more. Catherine is Past-President of the Association for Talent Development (ATD), San Diego Chapter and teaches at National University. In his book foreword, Ken Blanchard called her book, BACK OFF! Your Kick-Ass Guide to Ending Bullying at Work, “the most comprehensive and valuable handbook on the topic.” She recently released a second book entitled, SEEKING CIVILITY: How Leaders, Managers and HR Can Create a Workplace Free of Bullying.

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