How To Avoid Political Landmines In The Office

How To Avoid Political Landmines In The Office

Question:

Most of my employees are political junkies. Several of them swear by different Democratic candidates; a couple of the others are devoted Donald Trump fans.  I’ve been pretty lenient with letting employees talk some politics during the work day, because it seems to make the work day go by quickly and they manage to get their work done.

“Greg” is my only problem. He’s a CNN and New York Times news junkie.  He lets himself get distracted by breaking news emails from both websites and takes it upon himself to pass what he hears along so others can stay “up to speed.”

Last Friday, I told Greg he had to put his cell away and not access breaking news stories on work time. He surprised me by raising the issue at Monday morning’s staff meeting. He said, “I’d just like everyone to know I won’t be passing on news bulletins anymore. I’m been embargoed.”

Greg had obviously talked to a couple of his work friends over the weekend. They immediately spoke up, saying they would miss Greg’s updates and now subscribed to the New York Times site themselves. I felt that they were throwing my discipline of Greg in my face and reacted. I said some things I shouldn’t have. From the looks on everyone’s faces, it’s clear my employees think I was heavy-handed with Greg, when actually I’ve been flexible with everyone.

I’m backed into a corner. Do I let others do what I won’t let Greg do? Do I stop the political discussions for everyone? This isn’t my first run-in with Greg. He excels as rallying his friends to his side when he gets disciplined.

Answer:

Greg ambushed you. He painted you as unreasonable and you gave him extra paint. When ambushed, managers have two choices: return fire or retreat and quickly regroup. You returned fire. Managers who head directly into fire risk stepping on two landmines, both of which you hit.

Land mine #1:  Exercise caution when taking something from employees that they value without them understanding why. From at least some of your employees’ viewpoints, you’ve made a big deal over what they may view as both enjoyable and just a minute or two of time.

Landmine #2:  Don’t open your mouth until you’ve had time to decide what you will and won’t allow and can clearly explain your standards.

Regroup. You’re only in a corner if you choose. If your employees generally get their work done, establish reasonable boundaries around their interactive news briefings and define your parameters in terms that make sense. For example, you can tell the individuals who’ve registered for the websites that if they don’t let the breaking news emails create distraction-related mistakes and if they and others manage to get their work done without excessive time being spent on non-work discussions, you’ll allow it.

Be prepared to define excessive.  From an employee viewpoint the time spent receiving breaking news bulletins is negligible and the time it takes to pass information on only takes a moment or two. What might have tipped you over edge with Greg was his making distraction-related mistakes and then spending an excessive amount of time going from employee to employee.

If you’ve been flexible all along and want to continue that, say so. Let your employees know that as they don’t spend more than fifteen or twenty minute daily on political talk, and don’t let the distractions result in multiple errors, you have no problem with it. You can say that you’ll separately interact with anyone who can’t maintain those standards. Don’t fall into the trap of discussing Greg’s behavior as discussing one employee with another backfires. Simply explain you’ll allow flexibility as long as those involved handle it well.

If Greg continues to travel from employee to employee “rallying” the troops, ask your HR representative to get involved, as Greg may be an employee you need to bless out the door.

© 2019, Lynne Curry

Lynne Curry writes a weekly column on workplace issues. She is author of “Solutions” and “Beating the Workplace Bully” and www.workplacecoachblog.com. Curry is now a Regional Director of Training and Business Consulting at Avitus Group. Send your questions to her at Lcurry@avitusgroup.com or follow her on twitter @lynnecurry10.

 

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