The past year has been an incredibly tense, emotional year. People have been constantly exposed to news and social media filled with heated debates over politics, terrorism, race, religion, gender identity and more — revealing a range of emotions, from passion to anger to frustration.
Those feelings run deep, and many people can’t help but let those emotions seep into the workplace. Ultimately, these sensitive issues can create tension among co-workers and within teams. And these aren’t simple personality conflicts — they are issues that can cause true division and dysfunction if they’re not properly addressed.
With emotions running high, how can you keep your workplace civil and make sure your employees — no matter their personal or political opinions — feel safe and supported? Here are a few tips to navigate these challenges and use them as opportunities to unite your team and strengthen your business.
Acknowledge Any Tension
Don’t try to ignore the tension or pretend it’s not there. The truth is, it won’t simply go away on its own. If you sense a problem between employees, take each individual aside and acknowledge the issue directly. Don’t take sides — simply assure the employees that it’s understandable that they feel a certain way, but they can’t allow it to affect their daily work. Remind employees of their professional roles and the company’s expectations of them. A simple, gentle reminder can help employees turn their thoughts back to their daily responsibilities, rather than the issue lingering in the back of their mind.
This may also be a good opportunity for you to review your policies regarding the discussion of political issues in the workplace, so that in the future, hot-button issues are discussed only in an appropriate manner.
Create a Culture of Trust Through Teambuilding
As employees discover that they have different — and possibly opposing — opinions about certain issues, it’s likely that some distrust will develop between teammates. Use this as an opportunity to offer workplace support and build trust through teambuilding.
Teambuilding can help employees fill up what we like to call their “emotional piggy banks.” The more they learn to trust, understand and respect other team members, the more positivity they deposit into those banks. And when they’re full, a negative event, like an argument or disagreement (a “debit” from that account), won’t completely deplete them.
The teambuilding doesn’t have to focus on any specific topic or current issue. A broad topic — like effective communication or diversity training — can prepare your employees to better connect with each other without altercation.
Offer Management and Leadership Coaching
Your supervisors and managers are on the front lines of your workforce, interacting directly with your employees on a daily basis — so they should also be equipped to identify and deal with disagreements and high tensions. Otherwise, issues could go unnoticed until they escalate into a disruptive situation.
With the right knowledge and training, supervisors are in the perfect position to intervene appropriately and maintain team cohesion. So, consider offering leadership training that can help equip your supervisors to identify these types of disagreements and reinforce the ideas you established in your teambuilding efforts.
Leverage Your Resources — Especially Your EAP
Of course, these aren’t simple issues. Emotions surrounding any political or divisive issue are complex and run deep, and can affect the workplace in many different ways. In these situations, it can be beneficial to turn to your employee assistance program (EAP). A good EAP provider will serve as a resource for your employees, supervisors and entire workplace. Whether an employee wants individual support, a manager would like to pursue supervisor coaching, or your leadership team wants to gather some ideas for teambuilding, your EAP should be able to provide the resources you need to move forward.
If you don’t have an EAP, you should give it serious consideration. Especially during highly emotional times like these, an EAP can help you support your employees and maintain a positive company culture.
While today’s world is filled with division and debate, the workplace doesn’t have to mirror that discord. With the right training and resources, your workplace can remain civil in an uncivil world. If you’d like to have a deeper conversation about how an EAP can benefit your workplace, please reach out.