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The Political Workplace: Leading your Employees Through the Second Cold War

April 26, 2017

Politics at work

You’re not supposed to talk about politics in the workplace, but someone has got to talk about politics in the workplace.

Even if your employees have no opinion on the 2016 election, the fallout from this election is weighing on more and more Americans by the day.

Along with a contentious travel ban that effected many workers in the US directly and indirectly, last week saw the United States launch a missile strike on a Syrian air base in response to a horrific chemical weapons attack likely carried out by the Assad Regime.

This military action was described as a “violation of international law” by Russian President Vladimir Putin, but, due to recent talks with the US secretary of state, it seems like any further escalation is unlikely.

Just like the First Cold War, which saw moments of heightened tension like the Cuban Missile Crisis, this Second Cold War has a lot of people on edge, and some of these people probably work for you.

To avoid burn-out and promote a more enjoyable workplace, you should take some steps to release some of the political pressure that could be weighing on your employees.

Keep Politics Out of the Workplace

Unlike in a democracy, the boss has the final say in the working world, not the people. This is a fact of life, and if you’re the boss, you need to make sure that you remain politically neutral.

Without remaining neutral, you will create a toxic work environment where your employees will feel compelled to agree with their boss’s political leanings. Even if you assure your employees that you don’t care about their political affiliation, they will still feel pressure to “stay on your good side,” even if you don’t have a bad side.

That being said, the last few months have seen a blurring of the private and the political. From the POTUS cutting deals directly with manufacturing companies to retailers dropping Trump products, more and more companies are being forced to take political stances. If you happen to work within one of these companies, it is important to explain the reasoning of your leadership decisions to all employees in a business-centric way, not in a partisan rant.

If you are a die-hard something-or-other, politically speaking, you need to put business first. No matter how important your political views are to you, consider the opportunity cost of your strong political brand repelling talent that would have been perfectly content to work for a politically neutral company.

Be Sensitive to Stress

You should be sensitive to the stress that the political climate of the Second Cold War can put on your employees. Even social media sites have become inundated with terrifying headlines, and this prolonged state of unease can have a large, negative impact on your employees.

The stress hormone, cortisol, which is released when you experience a real or perceived threat, has been linked to reduced memory, mood disorders and even prematurely aging in the brain. If tensions persist on the global political stage, your employees will be experiencing more residual stress than usual, which is bad for their productivity levels, happiness levels and retention rate.

In order to avoid burnout from the gloom and doom of world events, recognize signs that an employee is stressed and let them know that you want to help them manage this stress. They may be overwhelmed from perceived threats, but there’s a chance that they are being directly affected by world events. For instance, they may have a relative who was effected by the travel ban or a relative in the armed forces who would be put in harm’s way in the event of war breaking out.

Manage Overly-Political Employees

Your place of business should be reserved for business, not political grand-standing. If you have noticed some of your employees becoming overly-political, it is in your best interest to approach these employees and tell them to be more neutral while on the clock.

Overly-political employees may cause trouble with their co-workers and may be prone to unpredictable, politically motivated actions at work. This being the case, it’s a good idea to draft an official policy on what sort of political expressions are appropriate for the work-place (small flags, stickers on your desk, etc.) and which expressions are inappropriate (debating/insulting the political views of co-workers, starting inflammatory/derogatory email threads on company time, etc.).

Bridge the Divide

In these divisive, tense times, it’s more important than ever to find common ground with the people you have trouble agreeing with. Nobody agrees on everything, but we can all agree that work is better without the tension that has become so common in politics and around the world.

Instead of focusing on the issues that divide us, focus on bringing your employees together with positive, shared experiences that have nothing to do with their jobs. Just be sure that the fun teambuilding and stress relieving exercise you choose is exciting to your employees, not dreaded by them.

Everyone has their own idea of what a good outing looks like, so let your employees propose ideas for fun office activities and hold a vote. If this ends up like the 2016 election two large opposing groups, then consider letting each group have their own outing before bringing everyone together for a go-cart race, basketball game, trip to the county fair or another universally fun and All-American kind of outing.

VP of Marketing at Digital Astronauts Ronny Cheng is one of the Co-Founder's of Digital Astronauts and has helped drive lead generation in the software industry for organizations of all sizes -- from start-ups to Fortune 500's. He helped build one of the first online software review websites, specializing in CRM, ERP, and HR software. He's a nationally published author with extensive experience working with the HR/Recruiting industries largest brands. In his spare time, you can catch him on Instagram doing his best food blogger impersonation.
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