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How to Deal with Post Election Drama in the Workplace

As tense as the leadup to the November 3 election has been, there’s unlikely to be an immediate let up afterwards.

elephant 2798628 640 smallEmployers will welcome more than 100 million Americans back to work after November 3 and human resources teams will need to prepare for what most certainly will be an uncomfortable environment, Harvard Business Review reports. If the election results between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden are close, the tension could extend for weeks or more.

A Monmouth University Poll conducted last month found that 38% of 758 registered voters believe it is very likely that the Trump campaign will try to cheat if they see it as necessary to win, with 14% saying it is somewhat likely. A quarter of these registered voters say it is very likely that the Biden campaign will cheat to win, while 14% say it is somewhat likely. Of these voters, 64% believe it is at least probable that Russia’s government is trying to meddle in the election, while 57% say the same of China’s government.

“Even in the best-case scenario, in which the race is clearly decided on election night, lingering bitterness and resentments will likely spill into the workplace,” Bob Feldman, vice chair of ICF Next, a global marketing, communications, and digital transformation agency, writes for Harvard Business Review. “But if, as many experts predict, the counting of mail-in ballots continues well beyond November 3, attended by cries of fraud, lawsuits, and possibly even dueling slates of electors (i.e., members of the Electoral College), companies will face the potential of a roiled workplace for weeks and possibly even months.”

Companies cannot afford to wait until after November 3 if they hope to maintain a certain amount of civility in their workplaces, Feldman notes. But he points to some efforts by U.S. corporations to foster positive change.

One of those efforts is the Better Arguments Project started by the Aspen Institute in partnership with Allstate and Facing History and Ourselves, a worldwide education program. The effort gathers participants in cities to hear from speakers on hot button issues, but they must pledge to five principles, including:

  • Taking winning off the table
  • Being present and listening
  • Connecting and being respectful
  • Being forthright and embracing honesty from other participants
  • Being open to new ideas

General Mills’ Courageous Conversations series has started its fifth year where they bring their employees together to listen to speakers discuss tough issues and then break up the employees into tables of 10 people to discuss. In its first year, there were 30 participants and that is now up to 3,000 employees with conversations done online.

Employers can take the lead in acknowledging the elephant in the room and encouraging civil communication after the election with the expectation that these discussions will be difficult, Feldman notes. They also can encourage employees to actively listen, have senior leaders model good behavior, and show empathy.

Companies will run into trouble if they think they can ignore potential negative fallout in the workplace post-election because their staff works from home, Sidney Bruce, head of customer success and HR at Eversee, a payroll company, writes for Forbes.

When home, “employees may feel they have more time to discuss these issues and feel even more pressure from the uncertainty and challenges presented by the pandemic,” Bruce writes. “With more time at home, workers may be making more of these comments. When employees are friends on social platforms outside of work, there’s no policy that can intervene when potentially offensive things are said.”

Gartner, a research and advisory company, noted in February that 78% of employees talked about politics at work, and 47% said the presidential election interfered with getting their work done. One-third of employees said they spent more time scouring for political news at work and 36% said they stopped talking or working with a co-worker due to political views. Gartner surveyed 500 employees in the U.S.

While some private employers may be tempted to bar political talk at work, which they are legally allowed to do, they need to assess the potential fallout on their business and employee morale, according to employment law firm Fisher Phillips.

“Restrictive workplace rules on politics and social discourse could turn off customers or lead to a boycott,” according to the firm. “In our highly political and digital age where people are ready to take a stand against a company based on political, social, and moral issues, you might need to collaborate with company decision makers at all levels to determine what’s right for your organization.”

Company CEOs “need to lean heavily on the skills of HR professionals trained to have difficult conversations and to facilitate them,” Johnny Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, president and chief executive officer, writes for Chief Executive. He too encourages that companies avoid trying to shut down political speech, especially in today’s climate where social and racial justice have taken center stage.

“Our human instinct—and the way many of us were taught—is to be conflict avoiders,” Taylor writes. “But the 21st century workplace demands that you manage conflict, not avoid it—that you force people to be uncomfortable to get to a better, more authentic place.”

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