Our collective supply of passion is experiencing a surplus. Politics, social movements, a pandemic – there are plenty of issues to feel strongly about right now. Emotions associated with those topics have likely infiltrated your social interactions at some point. They may have spilled into your workplace, too.
That can make for a tough office environment. Take politics, for example. Roughly 60% of U.S. employees recently reported believing political discussions are unacceptable in the workplace. Yet nearly that same amount reported discussing politics at work. Feels like a recipe for hostility, right?
Conflicts lead to connections.
Possibly, yes. But not necessarily. Daniel Casso is the director of human resources and administration with Better Business Bureau Great West + Pacific. As an HR professional, he knows that controversial topics can also be invitations to educate.
“Ignoring or pretending that some issues aren't happening and remaining silent is not doing a service to the employees who are talking about those topics,” says Casso. “Those are opportunities for organizations to embrace issues and discussions regarding diversity and inclusion.”
For those conversations to be productive, though, they need to be civil. Most companies have employee handbooks with civility clauses that outline consequences for not treating co-workers with respect, which can include termination. But is there a way to address sensitive topics without reaching that point?
Respect is the recipe.
“It's all about ensuring that people are treating each other with respect and that disagreements are addressed early,” says Casso. “Remind employees that there's going to be differences of opinion in the workplace, especially when outside workplace issues are discussed. So, if there is an issue that is causing discord, maybe the workplace isn't the best place to discuss it.”
For business owners wanting additional solutions for managing tough topics among their teams, Casso offered these three tips:
- Keep treatment fair and consistent. Every employee’s opinion should be considered with an equal amount of respect. They should also be subject to identical workforce policies. Regardless of which political candidate they voted for or where they stand on a social issue, each team member should be held to the same accountability standards.
- Healthy office conversations require healthy employees. We’re encountering a lot of heavy subject matter right now, and that can take a toll on our mental, physical, and emotional wellness. Making wellness tools and resources available to your team goes a long way toward eliminating internal stress that can often lead to conflict. Many of those tools don’t require a formal HR department either.
- Manage conflict proactively. Disputes are going to happen. They’re a byproduct of housing a variety of personalities on the same team. Keeping those disagreements dialed down means preventing them from building up. Recognize the signs of an issue and talk it out with those involved before the situation escalates.