America’s political divisions seem to be deepening. And, what’s troubling for employers is that our polarized political climate appears to be affecting employee productivity significantly, according to research by Gartner. According to a nationwide survey in February, 47% of employees reported that debate surrounding the 2020 elections is impacting their ability to get work done. About 33% of the employees surveyed said they now spend more time getting political news while at work. Perhaps more worrisome, 36% of those surveyed said it has led them to avoid talking to or working with a co-worker because of his or her political views.
So, how can employers attempt to keep political polarization from seeping into the workplace? Here are some tips to help achieve that goal:
- Establish office policies and hold training sessions on showing respect to co-workers, but don’t focus specifically on politics or social movements, which can have the effect of fueling conflict. Companies should strive for inclusiveness with respect to all employees.
- Ensure that dress code policies prohibit employees from displaying political buttons, logos, and other political speech in a uniform and non-discriminatory manner (including prohibiting items displaying support for a political party or cause).
- Adopt and enforce non-discriminatory rules prohibiting non-work-related political activities in the workplace. However, be mindful of political activities with a sufficient connection to employment-related issues that may be protected by the National Labor Relations Act or applicable state laws. The line is often difficult to discern and close calls should be investigated before action is taken. Non-supervisory employees do have the right to engage in “protected, concerted activity” under the National Labor Relations Act, which allows them to take action such as:
- Talking with co-workers about wages, benefits, or other working conditions;
- Participating in a concerted refusal to work in unsafe conditions; and
- Joining with co-workers to talk directly to management, a government agency, or the media about problems in the workplace.
- Create, implement, and enforce uniform non-solicitation policies during working times, and in working areas.
- Limit use of company equipment and resources, including work computers, photocopiers, email, and bulletin boards for non-work related purposes.
- Reiterate the company’s zero tolerance policy for discrimination, harassment or retaliation in the workplace. Inform employees that while they are entitled to their beliefs, and are entitled to discuss them privately with others, they are not entitled to discriminate against or harass co-workers.