Believe it or not, you spend most of your time at your workplace. Indians are overworked and the workplace retains a central role in many people’s lives. The psychological impact of an individual in his/her workplace is unavoidable. Research says, positive relationships among employees at the workplace improves satisfaction among employees and are likely to be more attached to the organization.
The interactions among employees without ‘Opinion sharing’ of social matters, particularly political views, in today’s context is impossible to remain bottled up. During tea breaks, lunch hour, commutes etc., as the political discourse ramps up, hot-button discussions will boil over between co-workers. A random political discussion may not only lead to squabbles but also results in reduced productivity, more stress and increased workplace hostility. Sometimes, discussing politics creates a toxic office environment.
While the requirement of strong and inclusive work culture is on the rise, for an organization to go global, creating a great work environment is essential for the success of a business. Thus, fostering employee interaction becomes crucial. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, 77% of the employees have listed their workplace connections as a priority. Handling between, the limit to political expression and at the same time to incite employee rights is critical for Managers and Leaders.
The thin line:
Article 19 of the Constitution of India allows and protects a citizen to hold opinions and gives the right to freedom of speech. But there is no such federal law that protects the continued
employment from the employer, if the political beliefs of an employee at work, don’t align with its business’s. “There is a boundary for an employee beyond which, their public views, even after the work hours may surpass the virtue of liberal freedom and begin to affect corporate brand reputation”, says Harsh Goenka, Chairman, RPG Enterprises.
Political views expressed do not stop just at the workplace. The ease of social media has made it possible to communicate political opinions on public platforms. Even though posts by some employees come with disclaimers such as “the views expressed are personal and do not reflect those of my organization”, it is often the organizations that pay the price for employee aberrations or unfortunate behavior (if any). So, it is important for an organization to lay its social media policies clearly and update it consistently.
Quartz India says, around 35% of Indians believe that those who hold opposing political views are not worth having a conversation with. But this trend is not supposed to continue – as organizations are required to be diverse and inclusive. What can Managers do to ensure a positive workplace relationship?
Accept and acknowledge:
The truth is, we can’t avoid political discussions in the workplace. We need to acknowledge it, instead of keeping it under the table. Managers should take this as an opportunity to show the leadership by keeping the political discussion under control. Being transparent and acknowledging the employees that it is okay to be emotional in certain opinions, Managers will get the insights on both sides of the conflict.
The constitutional right to free speech does not apply in most workplaces. The organization’s policies describe how the employees are expected to conduct themselves. In situations like heated political discussion-turned-debates, resurfacing the company policy and code of conduct will make everyone know the ground rules. Also, given the influence that social media creates, most organizations now have a social media policy, restricting a set of online activities as ‘misconduct’. For an employer, it is of utmost necessity in understanding the organization’s rights, taking care of its culture, focusing on the employee’s strengths and their common characteristics. With a formal policy in practice and E-mail reminders once in a while can keep employees informed about not getting into the political conversations too much.
At times, it is the very organization that may be the reason for its reputation damage. Because of not engaging with the employees effectively, a company may fail to express its stand on social issues. Unified communication across the organization to express the organization’s stand to its employees will make everyone aware of the organization’s interests. This makes the workplace engaging, transparent and democratic.
Political dissent is the essence of democracy. But despite the differences, employees are expected to work together and achieve the organizational goals. “To achieve diplomatic relationships, is to show respect for the other side in the form of validating the content of another person’s viewpoint or his/her right to have an opinion on it”, says Harvard Business Review.
Finally, in this polarized society, Managers need to be mindful of not just what opinions they express (if at all) but also ‘how’ they express it. The key is to stay neutral, address the issue and correct it before it negatively affects the business. With booming social media, with increased access to information, where everyone becomes an opinion maker, the future state of politics will become more controversial. Thus, making employees stay grounded in the corporate code of conduct becomes imperative. At the same time, promoting social interactions and developing inclusive workplace culture will ensure the employees to embrace dissent opinions from different perspectives.