Politics seem to be creeping into every aspect of our world. The workplace is no different. Not only do we have to navigate external politics leading up to the presidential election, but we have to navigate internal workplace politics. The internal politics in the workplace can be just as heated as the war between republicans and democrats. If you are the CEO, president, owner, or another type of organizational leader, you want a workplace environment that fosters collaboration and productivity. Distractions are costly and impact the customer experience. Distractions also lead to mistakes and impact the ability of the organization to effectivity and efficiently meet its goals. If you are a mainline worker, you need to learn how to navigate workplace politics in order not only keep your job but to get that next promotion as well.
Know the Laws
External politics—The First Amendment grants us the right to free speech right, yet the protection applies only to government action. Employers can regulate political discussion in the workplace. But remember, that first Amendment protections do apply to public employers and protect a public employee’s rights to free speech. Workplace laws regarding free speech vary by state. Know the laws for your state. Make sure you get legal counsel for the laws governing your specific organization.
Internal politics— An innocent comment taken out of context can damage relationships and sensitive work information share at the wrong time and place could cost you, clients. A criticism shared in the heat of the moment could lead to a reprimand or job loss. When it comes to managing internal speech, know that what you say can and will be used against you. Be mindful of what information you share about co-workers and supervisors. Understand any none disclosure agreements that you may have signed. Know what information is privileged. Be mindful of your speech at work and how it will impact others and your customer. A mentor of mine once told me, “You don’t have to share everything. Save something for when you die.” That might be good advice for the workplace. Measure your words and how much you share in the professional environment. Be cautious of openly criticizing coworkers and supervisors outside of the appropriate feedback channels.
Set Clear Policies
External politics—Set clear policies about political activism/campaigning at work. These policies could address the use of social media, the use of company equipment, and the distribution of political materials while on the clock or company property.
Internal politics—Know the rules and the culture of your organization. Ask yourself, how is information best shared and received by the leader and workers? We live in a world where the things we post online can easily come back to haunt us in our work lives. When it comes using social media to discuss race, gender, sexual orientation, or national politics, there is no longer such a thing as privacy. Once your personal views are on the world wide web, that information is no longer private and is forever in most cases. Your personal posts can damage our professional life.
Be cautious of the intersection between your social media and work relationships. Understand that each generation views this relationship differently. Boomers tend to frown on the oversharing. Gen Y & Gen Z have their entire lives documented on social media. Many older employers make hiring decisions based on what they see on social media profiles. Boomers and Gen X leaders tend to draw harder lines between work and play. In navigating internal politics, Gen Y and Z employees need to understand this cultural bias their bosses bring into the workplace.
External and Internal—Set politically neutral policies before incidents occur. Setting policies after an indecent occurs can appear retaliatory and biased against a certain demographic. With the increased focus on race, ethnicity, religion, and nationality in the current political environment, employers are being set up for the perfect storm of tension between employees. Practicing cultural competence is not about ignoring differences; it is about properly managing those differences to create an effective work environment.
Supervisors must carefully navigate the generational gap when dealing with workplace politics. As I stated earlier, each generation has a culturally developed understanding of truth and transparency. Policies have to be clear and filtered through an understanding of diversity, inclusion, and equity. Stringent policies related to social media or phone usage at work my unduly impact younger employees who use these tools as primary of communication.
Ramp Up Diversity, Inclusion & Equity Training
External—There is no time like the present to ramp up diversity, inclusion, and equity training. Sometimes the climate is right and teachable moments are happening all around us. Our hyper-polarized political climate provides a natural opportunity to engage employees about cultural differences and how to best create a harmonious work environment.
Internal—Culture plays a big role in how we learn and how we express ourselves in the workplace. It is up to leadership to ensure that internal barriers don’t exist that foster a closed “good old boy/girl” network. It is hard to play internal workplace politics if the game is stacked against you at the very beginning. Training should clarify organization expectations, provide a variety of feedback options, and provide clear guidance on how to launch grievances. The best time to address a problem in the workplace is before one occurs.
Consider activating employee resource groups (ERGs)—ERGs are voluntary employee lead groups that help to foster a diverse and inclusive work environment. ERGs help in managing employee engagement, improving communication, and strategically working at organizational goals in a more collaborative way. The groups should be focused, diverse, and well-facilitated. Download your free ERG guide here.
Promote your employee assistance program (EAP)—EAPs offer confidential short-term counseling, assessments, and other mental help solutions for employees. For employees that are frustrated, in crisis, or who are under stress, this can be a valuable resource. EAPs programs are designed to reduce healthcare costs and reduce the negative impact of health-related absences. Stress negatively impacts the health of employees. The EAP provider can work in a consultative role with managers and supervisors to address employee and organizational challenges needs. The EAP provider can be valuable in preventing workplace violence and work-related trauma. Check out the U.S. Office of Personnel Management for more information on EAPs.
Consider executive coaching—Start with your leadership team. Leadership is everything when it comes to creating a healthy, collaborative, and productive work environment. Leaders set the tone, so if leadership is out of tune, the workplace will be out of tune as well. Don’t hesitate to contact me for team or one on one executive coaching. I have over 25 years of experience leading diverse groups, and facilitating processes to tackle the complex nature of culture, helping leaders manage generational and other workplace differences.
Glen is a qualified administrator (QA) of the Intercultural Development Inventory® (IDI®). The Intercultural Development Inventory® (IDI®) is the premier cross-cultural assessment of intercultural competence that is used by thousands of individuals and organizations to build intercultural competence to achieve international and domestic diversity and inclusion goals and outcomes. IDI research in organizations and educational institutions confirms two central findings when using the IDI:
- Interculturally competent behavior occurs at a level supported by the individual’s or group’s underlying orientation as assessed by the IDI.
- Training and leadership development efforts at building intercultural competence are more successful when they are based on the individual’s or group’s underlying developmental orientation as assessed by the IDI.
* Cross-cultural code-switching is the act of purposefully modifying one’s behavior in an interaction in a foreign setting in order to accommodate different cultural norms for appropriate behavior.