Social and Political Expression at Work

This is having more impact than we actually realize at our workplace and otherwise.  People who were friends at work may suddenly have tensions that are so intense that it adversely affects their relationship.  Whether we want this or not, it is spilling over into our daily lives in all ways.

Some employees like to express their views on their clothing and in many other ways.  Such non verbals can spark someone else in a negative manner.  There is so much divide now that it is harder for leaders to manage this and keep employees centered and focused as to what they need to do.

Between the "movements" that so many are so passionate about, to the feelings about rioting, protesting, COVID and the Presidential elections, so many feelings and anxieties surrounding this are out there. Just watch social media. It is tiring and alarming as to how people are "speaking" to one another.  They don't seem to be concerned that behind that type is going to be a huge influence on how others view them in the future.  We are less accepting now than ever.  It is so tragic that we can't feel and think differently without many getting argumentative over it.  This is going backwards in society. We are at a time when we should know better and appreciate our differences as having significant value but instead we are " fighting" about it.  How backwards society seems to be going.

Employers are facing renewed questions about employee rights to display support for a political party or social movement on the job.  Some businesses have expressed their company views on social justice issues.  Business are allowed to support causes, movements or even politicians however there are some limitations. The are also practical reasons that businesses should refrain from being too "loud" or frankly, too aggressive, about where they stand.  Why? I would say mainly because if it is going to cause extreme negative feelings of those " on another side", you have to realize how that impacts your employees in feeling that the supervisory staff may treat them in a particular way if their beliefs are contrary to the business "voice". Keep in mind that discrimination is one risk in being too expressive of any one cause or movement.  We all have rights and it is easy to fall into a trap of perceived violation of them if we are too "aggressively" vocal.

Tragically, regardless of how this should be, we are seeing people boycotting businesses who express their viewpoints that are different from their own. What is happening to a society that has people doing this?  

Most of my career has been on how to appreciate and value the differences in people.  We train on this, we coach on this, we find the value of sharing the different perspectives that prove to be invaluable.  We seek to hire a diverse workforce as a result.  We train to respect one another.  We work hard to support those less fortunate.  We worked so hard to do good for all these years.  What has happened?  

I have never been more saddened by what is happening around us.  There are ways to disagree and respect one another and that is just getting so lost.  In any case, I am here to guide employers on some thoughts on this topic.

What should you do in your workplace to reduce issues?

1.  Talk about clothing - discourage clothing that has sayings that could spark huge debates or extreme "unrest" in the workplace.  Such opinions should not be  relevant to the work at hand.  Further, some of the sayings could actually be seen as harassment or discrimination. Time to review policies related.

2.  Legal protections - Be careful to avoid taking adverse actions against employees for engaging in protected political activities outside of work.  The First Amendment protects this.  Also be careful not to favor one political/social view over another and take negative action against one with opposing views that could be problematic on different levels for an employer.

3.  Consistency is key.  What's good for one group of employees needs to be good for another. Policies need to be up to date and clear as always.  Ensure they do no include language that could have hidden bias.

There are many who are moving toward training on diversity and inclusion which is always good and important.  The caution here, from what I heard from employees that have sat through some of these sessions available lately, is that they end up creating more divide with examples are used in the training.  The intent of such training should be to neutralize one's viewpoint by providing content that gives perspectives from others' viewpoints that are valuable in understanding why we think the way we do.  We all have issues we hold near and dear and we should be allowed to and be open about it.  We all need to be who we want to be and it isn't up to someone else to criticize us.  Our differences are our value to one another.

I hope and pray daily that we can get back to the general peace and civility in society that I would guess, most of us truly desire.  We can all like one another if we try.  

Gratefully I grew up understanding that loving everyone and finding their value and purpose is what we strive to do. I have taught my children to do the same. Why I am in HR truly is that in my heart, I see people, not color, not religion, not societal status, not lifestyle, not any other part of their beliefs or choices but rather they are people.  People need to be valued and respected period.  Being in the business of working with people, it is easy for me to appreciate everyone for who they are because I am lucky enough to work with so many and learn from each and every one of them.

God Bless America and all of our people!

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