Our company employs an interesting mix of personalities. In the past, this made for intense discussions about politics and world events, until last week when the U.S. Supreme Court’s potential overturn of Roe v. Wade leaked.
The discussion became hateful and resulted in personal attacks. The manager stopped it, but not soon enough, and HR then interviewed involved employees. Several said they don’t feel comfortable working alongside two other employees any longer. Now, instead of employees asking each other questions, they email work-related questions through the manager. This is wearing on her and slows productivity in an already understaff department. We need to mend what took place and make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Our management team has decided if we need to ban all political, non-work-related discussions, we will. Several of us feel that would be a negative outcome, as these discussions make the workday move faster for our employees. We also don’t know how we’d monitor a ban on political discussions given some conversations happen in the break room or restroom or between those who work at adjacent desks.
What are our options?
You face two challenges—mending what’s happened and deciding what to do with continuing discussions.
The abortion topic touches employees deeply and personally. Some employees have had abortions; others consider abortion murder. Many women can’t believe the government has the right to make a personal decision for them.
Mending the breakdown
Employers have three options when anger tears a work team apart. You can allow time to heal the situation; give individual members coaching or facilitate a team meeting that creates a fresh start.
Given that some employees told you they don’t know that they can work alongside other employees any longer, time alone may not suffice.
If only a few team members crossed boundaries, it may work to provide those employees with coaching.
The facilitated meeting generally proves your best option, as it allows team members to voice their thoughts and be heard.
The meeting begins with the facilitator establishing rules of engagement to keep the discussion respectful and on track, such as asking team members to exercise self-control in how they word statements as “When I see your face, time stands still” and “You have a face that would stop a clock” convey a similar end message but have radically different effects on the person to whom they’re directed.
With the facilitator guiding the discussion, the team responds to questions such as “What’s the best outcome we can achieve from this meeting?”; “What do you want others to hear and consider?”; “What will it take for you to let negative feelings go?”, and “What do you individually commit to do to recreate a positive work environment?”
The rules of engagement used in the facilitation can become the team members’ model for future hot-button discussions. These include listening with respect; not making statements you later regret; and agreeing to exit discussions when it’s clear that you and others hold passionate but radically different viewpoints.
Other employer issues
If the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade¸ making abortion immediately illegal in at least 13 states, you and other employers have other issues to resolve.1 As one example, employers that operate in states that ban abortions may decide to let petitioning employees work remotely in states where abortion is legal. As another example, on May 2nd, Amazon told its employees they would pay up to $4,000 in travel expenses annually for employees to undergo abortions and other non-life-threatening medical treatments in other states if abortion procedures weren’t available within 100 miles of an employee’s home.2 Citigroup, Apple, Levi Strauss, Match, Lyft, Uber and Yelp have made similar offers.
Finally, managers need training to be able to recognize and diplomatically intervene when lively discussions begin to spiral downward past a point of no return.
(c) Lynne Curry, 2022
If you enjoyed this post, you might enjoy https://workplacecoachblog.com/2020/10/employee-political-dispute-escalates-to-danger-level/, https://workplacecoachblog.com/2020/01/how-to-avoid-political-landmines-in-the-office/, https://workplacecoachblog.com/2019/07/how-to-deal-with-political-discussions-in-the-workplace/
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