The ever-changing political presence in the workplace

The workplace has changed dramatically since the start of the pandemic. Some aspects of work, like remote working and communication technology, have gone into hyperdrive, launching us forward a decade or more. As we simultaneously celebrate these advances, other aspects have fallen back, like women in the workplace, education, and economic and racial gaps. With our world seemingly divided, we want something steadfast and true to hold on to that will stand up and be an extension of our own voice. This is where the workplace stands in the gap.

With more people working at home, life and work lines have become more blurred, including conversations about culture and politics. Many now work from home / live at work, which means our social lives and political stances often bleed into our work environment. Emotions were at an all-time high in 2020 as we navigated a global pandemic and a US election all in one year. Business leaders were cornered into declaring a “stance” on everything from gun control to transgender rights to racism. It became difficult for workplaces to separate themselves from the raging political realm; in fact, they were often leveraged as tools for both extremes.

Business owners weren’t the only ones facing the aggressive tangling of personal and professional values. Employees are considering how their values align with a business before dedicating their time working for the business. Similar to how the behavior of an employee reflects the company’s image, employees are now saying the behavior of a company reflects them. Especially with younger generations like Gen Z, it’s not enough to like a product or service, but the company’s ethics and social impact also have to resonate with their own. With skepticism of the media and government on the rise, businesses have become the most trusted institutions, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer. In the wake of this trust gap, it is no surprise that people are looking to businesses to take a stand on political issues. Even more pressure is put on CEOs, with 86% of respondents saying they expect CEOs to speak publicly on societal issues.

Are these expectations appropriate for the workplace? An alternative study done by Clutch, found that the majority of employees don’t know or particularly care about the political stances of their coworkers. This study also found that fewer than 25% of people believe that shared political views are a priority when deciding whether or not to work for a company; salary and job titles are much more compelling factors. Although politics are a hot topic right now, most people would rather still keep them out of everyday office life. The majority find that political conversations inevitably have more downsides than benefits as politics have become a powder keg for many.

Altogether banning political talk in the office isn’t a good option either. There are ways to strike a balance and manage the ever-changing workplace dynamic.

  • Be transparent on values you hold as an employer, especially during the hiring process
  • As a manager, help diffuse situations and make sure all feel heard.
  • Respect boundaries. Just because a coworker talked about politics today doesn’t mean they want to talk about it tomorrow.

A new workplace dynamic has been evolving for years. What the pandemic has revealed is that we are really searching for trust. We want an anchor when it seems like everything is falling apart. It’s a tall order for business owners and CEOs, but trust is what rebuilds. If you are in that group, find other companies with similar values and partner with them. If you are an employee and don’t know your company’s values, ask and see them, and find your personal values overlap. Politics can definitely be a touchy subject wherever you are, but especially at work, so approach it with tact and grace. In today’s workplace silence might be more golden than ever.

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