Political discussions at work have become a very hot HR issue, given what people think is at stake in the coming election. Life-changing hopes and fears may end up being the most defining characteristic of our experiment with democracy. Emotions are boiling with hopes and fears on both sides of an ever-widening divide in our country, and there is a confounding driver of the divide. People are divided on the way they process information, some through knowledge and reason and others through feelings and intuition. This breaks down any sense of unity even further beyond any known repair.
Ironically, the constitutional right of free speech applies to government employees but not to private employers’ workplaces. Most reasonable-minded employers in the private sector know they can legally restrict free speech at the workplace to a certain degree, but they also know that they really can’t control it. Rather, they can only manage it. These sensible employers manage the political discussions so as to not let them cross the line into being unwanted, offensive, unprofessional, vulgar, or downright illegal.
Two other justifications of the private employers’ right to limit political discussion at the workplace include: (a) employees are being paid to work productively and extended non-work related personal discussions are not productive, and (b) employers have a practical right to “manage” these discussions during work time, knowing that fairness exists because the employees normally have nearly double the work time, when off duty to dress, appear, talk, and be as free as they like. That is a fair deal by any standards.
There is no doubt that this present climate is a real test for expert communicating. Things are likely to get worse as election results expand the divide even further. Half the people will gain satisfaction and have renewed hopes for a better future vs. the other half, who may feel disappointed or infuriated with the election outcome. Both sides desperately need catharsis for their overflowing emotions and thinking.
This sets the stage for everyone to learn how to effectively convey the right supportive qualities, which facilitate good communication, such as freedom, acceptance, provisionalism, empathy, spontaneity, and equality, while avoiding the wrong defensive qualities, which shut down communication, like implications of control, judgment, certainty, insensitivity, strategy, and superiority. Our normal emotionality, when our back is against the wall, favors the defensive mode, and only when we become our best selves with an attitude of authentic brotherly love, can we overcome that bad habit. Here is a sample communication of how to have such a difficult conversation in the private sector:
URGENT MESSAGE TO ALL OUR EMPLOYEES
During these trying times—with the widespread pandemic dangers, the coming presidential election, civil unrest from the BLM/ALM divide, and police issues in Seattle, Portland, Chicago, and other US cities—it is virtually impossible not to have strong political, religious, and other protected views. But, and this is a VERY BIG BUT, the workplace is not the right venue for any type of political, religious, or sexual orientation discussions/debates. We are paid to deliver quality products and services to our customers and time spent doing this during work time is wasted. Any views on these topics are emotional and personal and not prone to result in positive or productive outcomes.
Please understand that our company has a duty to guard against unwanted, unwelcome discussions at the workplace about politics, religion, and sexual orientation, which could be considered offensive or illegal under the Federal and State discrimination laws.
We cannot control what people think, how they believe, or what they consider to be right or wrong about all of today’s hot issues, but we can at least manage how we express these things. We all have the freedom to express ourselves at home and on a variety of social media forums, so long as it doesn’t violate work-related confidentiality or an employer’s rightful business interests. The goal for all citizens of our country is to exercise our freedoms responsibly without unduly offending others in the process.
In the meantime, stay safe and silent on these hot topics at the workplace, particularly if there is a potential danger in offending others in either an unprofessional or illegal manner. In other words, think before you talk. Violators of this directive can be disciplined, so it is in everyone’s interest to work together and cooperate in continuing to provide our valuable and important service to customers. Thank you all for taking this to heart and continuing to work as a team.
“They either want to kill you, kiss you, or be like you.” ~Anonymous.
William Cottringer, Ph.D. is Executive Vice President of Puget Sound Security in Bellevue, WA, along with being a Sports Psychologist, Business Success Coach, Photographer, and Writer living on the scenic Snoqualmie River and mountains of North Bend. He is the author of several business and self-development books, including, Re-Braining for 2000 (MJR Publishing); The Prosperity Zone (Authorlink Press); You Can Have Your Cheese & Eat It Too (Executive Excellence); The Bow-Wow Secrets (Wisdom Tree); Do What Matters Most and “P” Point Management (Atlantic Book Publishers); Reality Repair, (Global Vision Press), Reality Repair Rx (Publish America); Thoughts on Happiness; Pearls of Wisdom: A Dog’s Tale (Covenant Books, Inc.) Coming soon: A Cliché a day will keep the Vet Away (Another Dog’s Tale). Bill can be reached for comments or questions at (425) 652-8067 or ckuretdoc.comcast.net.