It’s 2020, and for many, the presidential election will be top of mind a lot of the time—and that includes at work. But more than ever, politics is now synonymous with partisan outrage, open hostility and aggressive finger pointing—all of which can make for an unhealthy and unproductive workplace. While 78 percent of employees report discussing politics at work, 47 percent say that the 2020 U.S. presidential election has impacted their ability to get work done, according the newly released Election 2020 Survey from research and advisory firm Gartner.
The firm’s survey of 500 employees across the United States in February 2020 found that politics and the topic of the election are negatively affecting productivity, collaboration and employee morale in the workplace. Other notable findings include:
- 26 percent of employees say the election has had a moderate or big impact on their ability to do their jobs.
- 33 percent of employees report that the topic of the presidential election has led them to spend more time getting political news while at work.
- 36 percent of employees report that the topic of the election has led them to avoid talking to or working with a coworker because of their political views.
- 31 percent of employees who talk politics at work report these conversations to be stressful and/or frustrating.
“During times of social and political change, employees expect more conscious action and policy from their organizations,” said Brian Kropp, chief of research in the Gartner HR practice, in a news release. “To minimize the negative impacts of politics on the workplace, HR leaders must ensure that employee emotions and behaviors associated with the current political environment don’t distract and disengage the workforce or create a hostile work environment.”
As the presidential election nears, Gartner recommends HR leaders focus on three areas to manage increased political expression and activity in the workplace:
1. Determine the right political expression policies for the organization
The research found that at organizations with political expression policies, over 75 percent of employees agree with these policies.
After verifying federal, state and local laws that may have implications on regulating employee speech or activity, HR leaders should use their organization’s culture as a guide to determine what types of regulations to put in place around political expression in the workplace.
HR leaders should focus on clearly articulating the policy’s goals and the prohibited activities and behaviors, as well as disciplinary action taken if the policy is broken. Organizations should consider which forms of political expression are most likely to have the greatest impact on their workplace, rather than attempting to shut down all forms of political expression. HR leaders should work with managers to ensure the policies are enforced consistently.
2. Emphasize organizational commitment to diversity and inclusion
Gartner found that in February 2020, 29 percent of employees witnessed at least one instance of unacceptable treatment of a coworker because of their political beliefs, including being called offensive names, being avoided by colleagues or being treated unfairly.
HR leaders should emphasize the organization’s commitment to ensuring a safe and inclusive work environment for all employees via their commitment to diversity and inclusion. HR leaders can emphasize the organization’s commitment to D&I by creating a space for safe, relevant communication about the election and reinforcing existing policies, processes and programs on workplace abuse, discrimination, harassment and bullying.
“To ensure employees remain focused and feel safe at work, HR leaders must train managers so they are well-equipped to support employees during the election process and deal with political conflict within their teams,” said Caroline Walsh, vice president in the Gartner HR practice, in the release.
3. Equip managers to support employees and address political conflict
Managers play a critical role in mitigating risks associated with political expression in the workplace. HR leaders can help managers minimize the disruptive effects of politics in the workplace in several ways:
- Sense and respond to the need for support. HR leaders must help managers recognize signs of distress among their employees, both directly (through conversations) and indirectly (through observation).
- Monitor political discussions. HR leaders must partner with managers to monitor political discussions among team members, as well as address and manage sensitive political conversations between team members.
- Model the right behaviors to reduce the likelihood of misconduct. HR leaders must ensure the managers at all levels understand organizational values and ethical standards so that they can effectively communicate and demonstrate them across the organization.