The last few years have seen a hardening of political positions and spreading conversation topics that used to operate well below the radar. You promote a welcoming and diverse atmosphere focused on work and productivity as an employer. But what happens when contentious topics migrate from Twitter to the water cooler?
From closely contested elections to the rise of social media to the ideological hothouse of the pandemic, political discourse has become more aggressive in recent years. Meanwhile, many people have pushed beyond widely accepted views on public policy. One study showed that at least 50% of Americans support a belief that could be considered a conspiracy theory.
Of course, office cranks have always been part of the workplace atmosphere. But what once could be dismissed as flighty opinions about the JFK assassination or alien abductions have become more pointed, contentious, and (often) toxic.
Case Study: The Great Replacement
As explained by NPR, the Great Replacement represents “a conspiracy theory that states that nonwhite individuals are being brought into the United States and other Western countries to ‘replace’ white voters.” Spread on social media, the theory has been implicated as a motivation for violence, most recently in the shooting in Buffalo where ten people were killed in a racially motivated mass shooting.
While still considered a fringe political position, the Great Replacement has become a talking point within mainstream media, especially since the Buffalo attack. As such, it could become a subject of conversation among coworkers at your office. If it does, it can raise a sensitive issue.
Of course, you don’t want to become a censor, monitoring every exchange between coworkers. After all, you have much better things to do (like running your business).
However, you have a responsibility to protect your employees from abusive language. Just as harassment and bullying require a response, it’s important to understand when normal friendly political banter crosses a line into something more sinister.
How to Respond to Political Controversy at Work
As we’ve noted, the Great Replacement isn’t the only fringe political theory floating around. It has bubbled into general consciousness because of its connection to recent tragedies. But it represents just an example of some of the challenges of managing an office in an age marked by heightened political tensions and raging conspiracy theories.
Given the environment, it’s important to have a plan in place to deal with these situations, providing a safe environment for all your employees. Here are a few steps to keep in mind:
Establish Your Values Early (and Often)
Let your employees know where you stand. This doesn’t require a specific stance on political issues. However, you should communicate your overall values in areas like diversity and inclusion.
Start this process in the initial stages of hiring. Deliver information about your corporate culture during recruitment and onboarding. Also, clearly detail your policies towards various topics, like harassment and hate speech. Avoid any confusion by providing regular refreshers.
Know Your Legal Obligations
When employees begin voicing controversial opinions at work, it opens up a complicated legal situation. You owe it to your staff to keep the workplace free of hate speech and threatening situations. At the same time, individual workers deserve due process any time an accusation takes place.
Start by knowing your legal obligations. This will protect you against potential lawsuits. Meanwhile, the regulations surrounding workplace policies will also help you frame effective, supportive policies to protect all your employees.
Create Transparent Policies
Don’t try to improvise a solution when a problem arises. Rather, create a process ahead of time. At the same time, communicate the details to your employees so that they have full transparency.
Having an established procedure will ensure that you handle specific incidents quickly and fairly. Employees will know how to respond if a difficult situation comes up. Meanwhile, a well-communicated structure will prevent clashes by letting employees know your expectations. A clear policy on what is considered acceptable in the workplace will avoid most problems before they arise.
Building and managing a productive team comes with significant challenges. It helps to have an expert partner in your corner. A top recruiter, like ABLE Associates, will let you reach your full potential.
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