Ethics Coach

The Savvy Way to Survive Election Season at the Office

The Savvy Way to Survive Election Season at the Office
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This story appears in the September 2016 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »
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Q: Election season has polarized my company. Several employees argue over politics, and work relationships are getting strained. How do I keep things civil?

A: You don't have to become a dictator to fix your office's cold political climate, but you will need to be a strong leader. And you're right to be concerned: Political commentary is often bad in the workplace, and colleagues who don't respect others' beliefs can create a hostile work environment for everyone. So it falls to you to define boundaries and help your employees get back to a place of tolerance and respect for each other -- no matter whom they're voting for.

First, have a meeting with the most partisan members of your work caucus. Tell them what you have been witnessing: a deteriorating environment, and political debates that get louder and louder. Ask what their take on the situation is and how they'd like to see disagreements handled in the office. Listen to and address concerns. Then say you need their help. Request that they clear the air with any colleague who may have been offended by past political exchanges. And come up with a plan -- with their input, but knowing that you have final say -- about how to move forward. Can politics still be talked about in the office, but in a toned-down way? Or does there need to be a total moratorium?

Maybe someone will accuse you of trampling their First Amendment rights. Incorrect. Don't forget, that protects people against government interference of free speech. You're the boss here, and you just want people of all political persuasions to work together peacefully. Everyone should vote for that.

Related: Four Ways to Foster Fairness in the Workplace

Q: I talk a lot about teamwork, but this quarter some employees really stepped up. I want to recognize them as individuals, but how do I remain fair to everyone?

A: Your recognition (and reward?) will mean a great deal to those employees, but it's true: You're entering tricky territory. You don't want the other employees to think your emphasis on teamwork was insincere. So here are your keys: openness and consistency. Everyone must understand your scorecard. 

Before you do anything, think through the values and behaviors that help the team thrive, and what specific achievements merit an individual reward. (Also, make sure you're identifying true individual performance; you don't want to praise one person for their whole team's work.) Then make all that clear to your employees, and reinforce it regularly without bias. This can't be a one-time recognition; whenever someone reaches your goals, be generous with praise. Encourage your whole team to notice and acknowledge each other's contributions. 

Related: 6 Key Tips for Leading by Example

And don't stop there. To truly encourage teamwork, reward it as well. Ask your employees what they'd like for superior teamwork. Perhaps an extra paid day off? With the right incentive, you can motivate individuals to rally together -- and make everyone's work better.

Edition: November 2016

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