By Joelly Lucien
Ballots have been cast, polls are closed, and election results are nearing completion. If workplace culture is a microcosm of what is going on in society at large, then a divided nation equals a polarized workforce. The days after an election is a time for reflection and celebration for some, but for others, it can be an emotionally charged time. How do you manage a polarized workforce? What can leaders do to manage the after-math of elections, proactively and compassionately?
“Your challenge as a manager is to make sure that as passions run high and viewpoints clash, the workplace remains respectful and productive“, says Emily Gregory, a vice president at VitalSmarts. “A manager’s job is to create an environment where people feel safe to contribute their ideas and experiences,” she says.
According to the Harvard Business Review, banning political talk is impractical and counterproductive. “Some people already feel they are rendered invisible because of what’s happening” on the national stage, and if you, the manager, make certain topics off limits, it could be viewed as sanctioning ignorance and even aggression,” says Tina Opie, associate professor in the management division at Babson College.
Jonathan Segal, an attorney with Duane Morris in Philadelphia and New York City, agrees. “Differences in political viewpoint is a diversity issue. It is but one example of diversity in thought. It is neither possible nor desirable to attempt to prohibit any political workplace discussions.” So what’s a manager to do?
1. Start by setting an example.
Set the tone of how colleagues relate to one another. Listen. Model respect and empathy. Remember, this is a diversity issue after all, so lean on your DEI training to help you strategize how to foster an inclusive environment for all.
2. Defuse fear of disagreeing with others.
HBR reports, “Disagreements probably won’t feel as bad as you think. When considering those who hold opposing views, we often rely on stereotypes, convincing ourselves that their positions are extreme caricatures of what they really are. Psychologists call this false polarization.
3. Don’t try to force dialogue or agreement.
Not everyone will want to discuss the election, and that’s okay. Some employees will look at every breaking news alert as final tallies come in while others can not wait for election season to be over. Some will voice disappointment while others may choose to deal with those emotions privately. Make sure employees know it’s perfectly okay to not have these conversations.
Election season brings up many controversial topics that could lead to difficult conversations between coworkers with opposing views — especially if those coworkers have strong feelings about the issues at hand. So be prepared for difficult conversations and conflict resolution, or perhaps, it’ll be a day like any other.