How to avoid political minefields at work
Lois A. Bowers
With nine weeks left until election day — and even less time until absentee ballots can be cast — senior living communities may be noticing increased tension in the workplace. That may be the case especially in so-called swing states, where voters are being bombarded with political ads and phone calls and may perceive their choices as having a greater influence on the outcome of contests.
Indeed, more than one-fourth of human resources professionals responding to a survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management this spring reported election-related tension, hostility or arguments among co-workers. Only 24% of organizations have written policies about political activities in the workplace, however, according to the society.
Those policies, study participants said, most commonly prohibit:
- Employees from campaigning for a candidate or political party during work hours (included by 65% of those having policies),
- Employees from using their position to coerce a colleague to make political contributions or support a candidate or cause (62%) and
- The use of an employer's assets to support a candidate or party (62%).
Verbal warnings (cited by 63% of respondents) and written warnings (46%) were the most common disciplinary actions for employees who violate a policy. Termination of employment also was a potential punishment, according to 29% of survey-takers. In the past 12 months, only 1% of study respondents had disciplined an employee for violating the organization's policy.
Perhaps it is too late for this election cycle, but if your organization is considering instituting a new policy or revising an existing policy related to political activities, the society has some advice worth noting.
“Generally speaking, employers cannot have policies that prohibit all political discussions, as this is considered protected concerted activity under the National Labor Relations Board,” said Edward Yost, human resources business partner/employee relations at SHRM. “But it is important for employers to monitor such discussions to ensure that they do not lead to bullying or threatening behaviors between employees or become a significant drag on productivity.”
And how should you behave with co-workers? “A good rule of thumb is to avoid those topics that generate the most arguments when you are with family and friends,” Yost recommended. “Political discussions could damage the cooperative working relationship between employees who land squarely on opposite sides of an incendiary issue.”
Lois A. Bowers is senior editor of McKnight's Senior Living. Follow her on Twitter at @Lois_Bowers.