Mid-term elections are fast approaching. And as workplace leaders, we’re kidding ourselves if we think fierce politics and corresponding high emotions won’t creep into our offices.
If your people team hasn’t been actively talking about how to support employees through the upcoming elections in these heated and divisive times, it’s time to do so. With so much going on, it’s critical that we “keep the main thing, the main thing” by creating workplaces built on empathy and compassion that feel safe and welcoming for all:
1. Don’t let your personal beliefs get in the way of making a safe space for everyone during election time
Gone are the days of leaving politics at home. In today’s world, 75% of employees expect their employers to take a stand on key social and political issues.
This can feel challenging for those of us in HR, who have traditionally remained the true-neutral Switzerland of the office. How are we supposed to adapt to this new era, when politically active Gen Zers are entering the workforce and major brands are now publicly posting their support for various issues?
But our role hasn’t changed. No matter our politics, it’s still 100% our job to create an inclusive space that’s welcoming to all.
What does this mean? It means making yourself available. Let employees know your office door (or Zoom room) is open for anybody, no matter what their beliefs. Avoid disparaging dissenting opinions, even in “safe spaces” where you think everyone is in agreement—you never know if there’s someone within your ranks who continually feels like the odd person out.
This allows us as HR leaders to serve a critical function: create the space for any employee to feel comfortable coming to us if they need support navigating a challenging situation. Because our job is to make sure everyone feels safe coming to us, no matter their beliefs—or ours.
2. Create spaces for inclusive conversation
The importance of being proactive can’t be overstated.
According to SHRM, more than 50% of working Americans describe an increase in political conversations at work since 2016. It’s happening, whether we like it or not. So it’s up to us to ensure these workplace discussions are taking place in an appropriate manner and forum.
First, acknowledge that tensions are running high for everyone. If your workforce is especially divided, facilitate group exercises that encourage mutual respect. Remind others (and yourself) that no matter how polarized the political environment may feel right now, that politics are ultimately very nuanced. There are valid opinions all along the political spectrum that are worthy of respect.
Then, focus on your shared company values, which should be something you can all agree on. How do they come into play in the context of an election year?
Next, whether your employee count is six or 6,000, work with volunteers and leaders to facilitate conversations with clear boundaries. These could include forums giving each person who wishes to express their views an equal amount of time to speak.. Work with your leadership team to ensure there is no threat or fear of retaliation for speaking up in these forums.
Once you’ve created safe spaces for conversation, encourage employees to keep political chatter to these channels. As important as politics are to many people, the truth is that engaging in it constantly can cause quite a bit of stress. Make sure you’re providing an outlet for people who want to have discussions, while protecting the ones who don’t.
3. Encourage all employees to vote
Work with your leadership to make voting as easy as possible for your employees. This could include offering time off for voting and volunteering at the polls—and offering incentives to encourage people to do so. Whichever route you take, be mindful not to use language that could be interpreted as influencing employees to vote one way or the other.
Okay, HR & business leaders—you’ve got this. No matter your personal opinions, creating a safe space for all employees is something we can all get behind. And is fundamental to an Employee Experience that resonates with everyone.
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