HR professionals are charged with keeping employees comfortable, productive, and engaged. As national politics increasingly distract employees from their work, some managers turn to policies or guidelines regarding political expression in the workplace to mitigate these issues.
Recently, Clutch surveyed 1,000 full-time employees to better understand the benefits and drawbacks of developing a political expression policy. The survey was designed to help HR professionals better manage political issues between employees, and learn more about their experience with company policies regarding political expression in the workplace.
In an ideal world, employees will innately understand what is and is not appropriate to talk about at work, but every HR professional knows that reality is much more complicated.
As political opinions become more and more partisan in the wake of the 2016 United States election, business managers and HR professionals may be forced to tackle issues concerning political expression in the workplace more frequently. In order to deal with politically-charged conflict, HR personnel need to first understand how their employees are affected by the changing political landscape and how that affects their work.
The survey uncovered the following:
- 12% of employees have been uncomfortable due to political expression at work in the last week, and 31% say their company’s productivity level has decreased as a result.
- 45% of companies have a guideline/policy regarding political expression in the workplace. Larger enterprises are more likely than small businesses to have a policy in place.
- Over half of employees who have been uncomfortable or distracted by political expression at work believe their company should create a policy to address these issues.
- Employees who are negatively affected by political expression at work are more prevalent at companies where employees have diverse political views.
“The issue which we’re facing at the moment, and which wasn’t one in the past, is that everyone is dialed-in and connected all the time … People have become obsessed with this type of exposure to information at work, and are becoming distracted by political arguments,” said Dr. Steve Albrecht, HR Consultant and author, in a blog post on the findings.
HR experts recommend addressing the issue of political expression in the workplace with employees. However, there are many different ways a company can go about discouraging conflict, each with their own benefits and downsides. Regardless of whether a formal, written policy, or a brief, conversational approach is right for you, this issue should be considered and addressed by company leadership.
Why Should HR Managers Consider Developing a Political Expression Policy?
Many HR managers have turned to crafting policies or guidelines regarding political expression in the workplace in the hopes of deterring the negative effects the election cycle has had on employee productivity and comfort. In deciding whether or not to develop a policy, it helps to understand what kinds of companies already have one.
Overall, 45% of employees say their company has a policy or guideline regarding political expression in the workplace.
More companies have a policy than those that do not. This finding is consistent with a recent survey by the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) and shows that while many HR managers have decided to address this issue with a policy, others are less certain, or have gone another route.
The tendency to develop a policy is more prevalent at large enterprises than in small businesses. According to HR experts, there are a few explanations as to why a smaller percentage of small businesses have addressed this issue:
- Large enterprises more commonly face lawsuits over discrimination and unionization than small businesses.
- Large enterprises bring together more employees—a larger number of opinions that might clash with each other.
- Small business leaders are able to interact one on one with employees more readily than leaders at large companies can, often catching disagreements before a formal policy is necessary.
- Larger companies have access to more resources to devote to developing a policy and hiring HR personnel to carry out a policy.
“Boundaries are the biggest benefit of developing a policy. They can be used for discipline, if this is needed, or at least in coaching … If something hurts people’s feelings, and interferes with a group’s ability to do the job, we should regulate it,” said Albrecht.
Why Should HR NOT Develop a Political Policy?
While there is conflicting advice from HR experts on what type of policy is most beneficial to adopt, for many businesses in the United States the answer will be none.
One major drawback to implementing any policy affecting employee expression is enforcement. It is nearly impossible, and completely impractical to monitor employee conversations to ensure they are following a policy’s rules.
Another major issue with implementing a policy regarding political expression is the potentially negative response from employees on the subject. Employees are almost perfectly split when it comes to whether or not they believe that their company should have a policy or guideline.
Unfortunately for managers, there is not an overwhelming consensus from employees that a policy is for the best. This disagreement creates a number of potential problems for HR personnel: by implementing a policy to protect some from feeling ostracized, or uncomfortable, they may anger employees who feel like their rights are being infringed upon.
Forcing some employees to abide by a policy they don’t agree with could have a negative impact on larger company culture. Fostering an environment of openness and feedback is difficult if employees feel like they are not allowed to express themselves fully.
For employees who have never experienced a negative reaction to political discussions in the workplace, and may even thoroughly enjoy discussing politics at work, a policy restricting those rights could actually hurt company culture rather than nurture it.
For more information on this survey, or to view the complete findings, click here.