Particularly since the presidential election that took place nearly two years ago, political views and opinions have become increasingly strong. With mid-term elections looming, differences of opinions on candidates and measures is bound to spill over into the workplace, creating distractions and potentially hurt feelings. As managers and HR professionals, how do you manage political banter at work, ideally before productivity is affected and discussions need to be halted?
It is unreasonable to assume that there will be no chatter of politics at work, since the majority of our time is spent at work during the work week, and typically with the same people with whom we’ve become comfortable working and conversing with for years. And since politics can also play a significant role in both personal and professional parts of life, it can become natural “water cooler” conversation for some employees. However, while a healthy debate about politics is necessary to work through our own beliefs and come up with new concepts for the betterment of all, in the workplace they can lead to a major distraction from work. This distraction can be anything from employees no longer talking to each other to taking time away from actual production.
It’s best to keep political conversations in the workplace to a minimum. If, however, despite your best efforts, a discussion becomes heated and gets out of hand, try to help employees find a common ground by validating each employee’s right to their opinion, acknowledging their differences, then reminding them to leave it at that. Do not “side” with either employee. Simply encourage that it’s okay for them to “agree to disagree,” and that it’s best to not discuss politics anymore.
Ultimately, the workplace is a place for work. Politically-charged conversations, while not illegal in the workplace, are best left for after-hours discussion. More times than not, they can lead to disagreements which can offend others, possibly ruin relationships, and lower workplace morale and productivity. It’s important to exercise one’s freedom of opinion, but best to treat political discussions with respect, or, whenever possible, to avoid these discussions altogether.
In our last two posts, we have been discussing how to field employee complaints and what initial factors you should implement in order to get the best information out of the grieving employee, in addition to those parties involved. Factors such as ensuring confidentiality, staying impartial, taking notes, and determining credibility are all important elements to keep in mind when conducting interviews, but what specific questions should you be asking in these investigatory conversations?
Whenever an employee approaches you with a verbal or written complaint, ask some of the relevant follow up questions to ensure you have as much information as possible to determine appropriate next steps (e.g., formal investigation):
- Ask for specific examples of situations regarding the key words (e.g., if an employee references a grievance, ask for details of the grievance; if an employee states they feel discriminated against, ask what specifically makes them feel that way, etc.).
- Additionally, explain that in human resources, these terms have very specific definitions and give those definitions so the employee understands the gravity and relevance of the terms they choose to use in their complaint.
- Depending on the nature of the conversation, ask some of the applicable the following follow up questions to the individual’s complaints/statements to ensure you have all the information:
- Who/what/when/where (who committed the alleged behavior, what specifically happened, when did it occur or is it ongoing, and where did it occur)?
- How did you react and did you ever indicate that you were offended or somehow displeased by the act or offensive treatment?
- Who else may have seen or heard the incident and have you discussed the incident with anyone? Is there anyone else who may have relevant information?
- Did the person who harassed you harass anyone else? Do you know whether anyone else complained about harassment by that person?
- How has the behavior affected you and your job?
- Are there any notes, physical evidence, or other documentation regarding the incident(s)?
- Did you follow the Company’s grievance process?
- Do you have any other relevant information?
- What action do you want the Company to take?
After you finish conducting your interviews is that it? Are there any “best practices” you should be implementing to conclude the investigatory process? Follow along in our next post as we wrap up this topic and discuss what steps are necessary to tie up any loose ends and close out an investigation.