Politics at work: how to deal with opposing points of view?

According to Johnny C Taylor Jr, the problems started when employers started encouraging people to get to work.

Taylor isn’t a crispy hangover from a conformist age when staff were supposed to keep their personal opinions to themselves: The former director of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund for Historically Black American Colleges and Universities heads the Society for Human Resource Management, which represents HR professionals. around the world.

As this mantra of inclusive management took hold, he says, employees took it literally, bringing language, clothing and political biases to offices and factories every morning. that they used to leave at home.

It is the latest of these imports that is causing SHRM members more trouble than they ever imagined. As voters become more polarized, the people who manage them are “struggling mightily,” Taylor says, to contain their heated political disagreements.

The HR profession has long preached the value of different backgrounds and worldviews in a business world where managers once preferred to hire people who looked like and thought like themselves, he observes. “What we underestimated was that inclusion would be made very, very difficult by diversity.”

Even as CEOs have spoken out on polarizing topics ranging from racial justice to abortion, we have paid less attention to the tensions these topics cause within their organizations where, in Taylor’s words, ” employees say ‘I want to come to work and share my full displeasure with the Supreme Court decision [overturning Americans’ constitutional right to an abortion] but I don’t want my colleague to do the same fucking thing.

An upsurge in conflict between individuals with opposing views has led workers to ask managers to fire colleagues “because they don’t fit” and potential recruits to walk away because they don’t feel aligned with the organizational values, warns Taylor.

It has also led to ill-fated attempts to make politics banned during working hours.

Last month, for example, The New York Times reported that Meta told staff not to discuss the Supreme Court’s overturning of the Roe v. Wade case because “openly discussing workplace abortion presents increased risk of creating a hostile work environment”.

Coinbase and Basecamp sparked employee walkouts after trying something similar for the past two years, while Goodyear Tire and Rubber faced backlash after banning workers from wearing Donald’s Make America Great Again hats. Trump.

When you dig into the costs of workplace polarization, you can understand the temptation to try to silence the debates that divide so many teams. SHRM found that 41% of American employees left their jobs at some point because they felt their values ​​were stigmatized.

Many others feel disengaged when surrounded by colleagues they disagree with, adds Jeff Jolton, head of research and insights for Kincentric, a leadership and employee development research group. owned by Spencer Stuart.

The “talent uprising” that led to the Great Resignation saw more people try to align their work with their values, notes Jolton’s colleague Seymour Adler. It’s a problem if your colleagues have fundamentally different values.

So what should managers do if they find team members at odds with each other? Top-down ads banning political discussion aren’t the answer: A recent Morning Consult poll found that only one in five Americans advocated that companies respond to the Supreme Court’s abortion ruling in this way.

The best approach is to manage these conversations, Taylor believes. It starts with reiterating a company’s commitment to diversity, including political diversity.

The alternative to including differing viewpoints is groupthink, Adler points out, while developing “the ability to disagree well” can even make a company more innovative, as Megan Reitz and John Higgins have shown. wrote in the Harvard Business Review last year.

However, disagreeing well is the key. “When an employee exhibits behaviors inconsistent with our values, we get rid of them,” Taylor says bluntly, explaining the need to insist that employees remain civil.

Some managers hold listening sessions whenever politics starts to creep into the job, but Taylor doubts that’s ever helpful. Discussions can quickly turn into debates, which each side seeks to win, he warns: “On most of these subjects, no one comes to discuss”.

Some conflicts simply erode collaboration, Adler echoes, so leaders have the right to put in place “safeguards,” or a shared vision of what employees should all be working towards, to ensure that people stay focused on getting the job done. Furthermore, adds Jolton, this vision is “an important part of what people want from leadership.”

Persuading a strong-minded employee to sympathize with another’s opposing point of view is difficult at any time. Doing so in the context of our current political divides is even more difficult.

But even as polls show voters becoming more polarized, they also show they crave less polarization. If managers are successful, our workplaces may well play a role in achieving this common goal.


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