Let's face it - the gloves are off. Since the 2016 election everyone is on high alert and walking on eggshells. It seems as if our priorities have shifted: today priority #1 is to be heard (notice I didn't say understood) and #2 is to call out anyone with a dissenting opinion. It's affecting everything - our relationships, our stress levels, our ability to empathize - and it is happening everywhere - in the malls, doctor's offices and the workplace.
Complaints to Human Resources are on the rise as are legal claims. There is dangerously low tolerance for any perceived slight and a lack of attempt to understand one another. Now more than ever HR and managers need to be engaging their employees to encourage positive interactions and intelligent discourse while using their skills and training to identify and resolve conflicts before they become problems.
How can employers maintain a civil environment without trampling on their employees' civil liberties? Below are a few tips:
Lead by example
Easy right? Except when your conservative CFO gets blustery about how long its taking Congress to repeal and replace Obamacare. * Breathe * Everyone is entitled to an opinion and your employees are watching for your reaction (or lack thereof).
Make sure your standards of business conduct and communication are clear and visible.
You know that statement in your handbook about what behaviors are subject to discipline? Take it out, dust it off, and update it for today's workplace. Use language that is relevant and include real world scenarios. A couple of examples:
"XYZ Company encourages intellectual curiosity and intelligent discourse among employees, even those with dissenting opinions. Our diversity is what makes us great. Discussions should always be respectful and in no way are political or personal opinions considered a factor in employment decisions."
"What are some behaviors we discourage at XYZ Company? Talking over one another. Being dismissive. Not walking away if a discussion starts to become heated."
Incorporate your business conduct standards into your Core Values statements and other communications materials. Make them a part of your common language.
Outline the consequences of not abiding by business conduct standards and take action.
Don't let bad behavior fester - take action and course correct in real time.
Use Human Resources
Your HR Department should be training your managers on how to recognize and deal with
tense situations, introducing conflict resolution techniques and helping managers to know
when to escalate issues. While your managers are the frontline if they aren't equipped to
handle difficult scenarios they can't be expected to manage them.
Managing would be much easier if we could just tell employees what they can and can't talk about. But that isn't realistic and it restricts creativity and innovation. Getting ahead of potential challenges and educating your managers is the best way to ensure a diverse and sensitive work environment filled with lively dialogue and learning opportunity.