Political conversations have spilled into every area of our lives, including our workplace. Religion is the comfort many people turn to when faced with uncertainty. Politics and Religion are certainly hot topics of interest at the moment, especially given that it is a presidential election year in the U.S. and the world is facing a pandemic (COVID-19/coronavirus).
With both hand sanitizer and answers in short supply, dread over the coronavirus has driven the globe’s faithful even closer to religion and heightened political tensions. Is your company policy regarding Religion and Politics in the workplace still relevant? Does it apply to employees working remotely? How about during a pandemic?
A. Putting Things into Perspective
The U.S. workforce is comprised of people with very diverse backgrounds – particularly with regards to religion and politics. And while workplace discussions about the latest news topics are to be expected, the potential for decreased morale or divisiveness from those discussions can be an unexpected (and unwelcome) result. When opinions and emotions are running high, it’s easy for political talk to escalate — or even trigger claims of a “hostile” work environment, should someone overstep the bounds of appropriate decorum.
Political and religious expression in the workplace has the potential to offend employees or clients and disrupt your business. As an owner or manager, how do you create appropriate boundaries regarding political and religious exchanges, yet give your employees the freedom to express their views in an appropriate manner? And how should you handle the tricky situations that may emerge when employees discuss politics or religion in the workplace or via social media? Having clear policies in place can go a long way, but conflicts can still occur. Here’s some tips on handling the most common conflicts surrounding your employees’ political and religious discussions.
B. Craft an Effective Policy Tailored to Your Company Culture
Are you prohibiting all political and religious discussions among employees or just those that become disruptive? Are employees allowed to discuss politics during work hours, or only on breaks or after hours? With any political matter in the workplace, it’s important to address the disruption and not punish the perspective, which could appear discriminatory. The proper response depends a great deal on your company policies. Some steps to consider include:
- Redistributing your policies regarding harassment, discrimination, and political or religious expression as a reminder to employees of the rules they should follow.
- For managers and employees alike, consider conducting refresher training on what constitutes discrimination and harassment in the workplace, how it can arise in the context of political or religious discussions, and how to prevent it.
- Review and revise if necessary, your policy every two (2) or three (3) years to make sure the directives still reflect the company culture and societal norms for acceptable workplace discussions.
- And certainly, if your company’s handbook does not yet have a policy regarding religious and political discussions, now would be a good time to add one.
C. Avoiding Negative Impressions
Beyond establishing a sound company policy, you may find it helpful to discourage managers and supervisors from discussing politics and religion, especially with subordinates. This step may help protect both your employees and your company and help quell feelings from employees that their managers favor some employees over others due to their shared political or religious views. Some other common-sense measures can help ensure the discourse stays civil:
- Urge everyone to help shape the company culture daily. Encourage managers and employees alike to keep conversations friendly and educational and urge them to avoid ridicule of others, their beliefs, or viewpoints.
- Remind everyone maintain professional decorum. Try not to take sides, get sucked into arguments, or “gang up” on an employee for their views.
- If a conflict arises, remember that there does not have to be a “winner” and a “loser.” Discussing controversial topics as religion or politics does not mean you should try and convert everyone to your viewpoint. Recognize that everyone is entitled to their own opinion.
D. Lead with Empathy
Putting oneself in another’s shoes, even when doing so results in a completely different perspective, is a skill worth learning. And while managers may not see themselves as “armchair therapists”, exhibiting empathy and understanding of others’ viewpoints is an effective leadership skill that can help foster productive employee relations.
- For company leaders, the goal should be to facilitate optimal employee performance. Ideally, you should be a coach, a sounding board, and a support system for your organization. Engaged employees have higher productivity, profitability, customer satisfaction, and loyalty.
- The ability to manage employees around and through volatile topics can foster a more productive, inclusive environment. Employees will trust their managers with their struggles rather than finding other forums, such as social media, and governmental agencies, through which to voice them.
Discussions about religion and politics can be passionate, interesting, and have the potential for fostering trust and camaraderie among your staff. By the same token, those discussions can sometimes cross the line and become a source of friction and create needless conflicts among employees that your managers have to resolve. Keep in mind that Title VII prohibits discrimination against an employee because of their religious beliefs or practices, but that does not mean that employees have an unfettered right to share their religious beliefs or practices with their co-workers if the behavior is disruptive to the company’s work environment or violates the company’s lawful policies. It’s crucial, especially in times of uncertainty, to be consistent and for employees to have a clear understanding of company policies and expectations while still providing a forum for engagement and a sense of belonging within the organization.
C2 provides strategic HR outsourcing to clients who want to develop optimal workforce strategies and solutions to allow them to be more competitive and profitable. C2 blog posts are intended for educational and informational purposes only.