Every four years the United States of America temporarily abandons the “United” part of its name and immerses itself into a war of words, ideas, and candidates. And 2016 is an election year that has already brought the worst out of many. The scent of the presidential election manages to permeate every aspect of American culture—including business—regardless of whether you find the smell stinky or fragrant. So, what can an HR pro do to manage everything that comes along with an election year (and by extension politics in general)? Here are five things to consider to make sure the political brouhaha doesn’t hurt your organization:
1. Civility – When it comes to politics, people are naturally very emotional. But far too often this passion leads to unkindness and vitriol. If you don’t believe me, I dare you to log in to Facebook. While you can’t enforce how your employees act with others in their personal lives, make sure employees know that no matter their differences, civility is a requirement while they are at work. Teach your people the four most important words to remember at work during an election year: “Let’s agree to disagree.” Once they have those four down, teach them the three follow up words: “And stay friends.”
However, in your recruiting efforts, don’t shy away from looking for red flags on social media. If you find that somebody is using the election as an excuse to be a jerk online, you may want to keep that in mind as you filter candidates. Who knows what else they’ll use as an excuse to be a jerk in the future.
2. Company neutrality – Unless company leaders decide otherwise, employees should be neutral while representing the company. This could be your customer service talking with customers on the phone, or company reps at a trade show, or even a copywriter drafting a blog post (wink, wink).
Politics are as nuanced as anything in this world, and there are a thousand different ways to say the wrong thing. Your business objectives are far too important to risk every time an employee wants to sound off on this political issue or that. Take the time to remind them of as much.
3. Don’t assume too much – Maybe you’re convinced that candidate X will be elected and that they’re going to destroy Obamacare. Or maybe Candidate Y is certainly going to win and increase the minimum wage. No matter how certain you may be, do not count your chickens before they hatch. After all, there are lies, darned lies, and campaign promises.
Focus on what you can control now. Deal with compliance laws that do exist, learn everything you can about the Affordable Care Act that exists as it stands, and so forth. Changes in HR are going to come when they do, but you can only help yourself and your organization by mastering it today.
4. Stay positive – Negativity is easy to find during an election year. Many will try to convince you that the world is ending. And while for all we know the world is ending (remember, stay neutral), negativity is more likely to cause the earth’s demise than anything.
And when it comes to work, positivity makes a world of difference. No matter how much turmoil you might feel inside when you watch the news, helping your business thrive will certainly give you more peace of mind. Whatever your formula for staying positive, use it. Stay positive and have hope (Note: this is a literal reference to the concept of hope and is not an endorsement of Barack Obama).
5. You can’t just say whatever pops in your head – Nobody’s quite sure how some politicians get away with saying some of the things they say, but your employees better recognize that they are not equally immune. There are a lot of serious damages that come from inappropriate comments (e.g. sexual harassment, racism, etc.), and it doesn’t matter how honest somebody feels, they shouldn’t be allowed to say harmful things in the workplace.
HR knows better than any group what it means to deal with rogue employees who say offensive things. This problem has the potential to be exacerbated during an election year. Take the time during an upcoming company meeting to remind your people of this and all other matters that may become relevant during politically charged times. Just like so many politicians out there, we all need the reminder.