This article about the role of HR leaders in guiding their workplaces through the 2020 election season is written by Kazoo’s SVP of Growth Strategy & Operations, Dania Shaheen, and originally appeared on LinkedIn.
The 2020 presidential election is in less than a week. And as workplace leaders, we’re kidding ourselves if we think the fierce politics and corresponding high emotions won’t creep into our offices.
About two years ago, I had the privilege of adding HR to my workplace scope. The level of accountability I’ve had, both in my People function and personally, has only grown in light of the pandemic and social justice movements.
My People team has been actively talking about how to support employees through the election in what has proven to be a difficult year. With so much going on, it’s critical that we “keep the main thing, the main thing” by creating workplaces built on empathy and compassion that feel safe and welcoming for all.
I’m proud of the tenets we’ve created to support empathy and compassion through this election. And because I know we are not the only leadership team facing this challenge, I wanted to take a moment to share them with you all as we work through similar challenges supporting our employees in the 2020 election.
1. Don’t let your personal beliefs get in the way of making a safe space for everyone
Gone are the days of leaving politics at home. In today’s world, 62% of employees expect their employers to take a stand on key social and political issues.
This can feel challenging for those of us in HR, who have traditionally remained the true-neutral Switzerland of the office. How are we supposed to adapt to this new era, when politically active Gen Zers are entering the workforce and major brands are now publicly posting their support of the Black Lives Matter movement?
But our role hasn’t changed. No matter our politics, it’s still 100% our job to create an inclusive space that’s welcoming to all.
What does this mean? It means making yourself available. Let employees know your office door (or Zoom room) is open for anybody, no matter what their beliefs. Avoid disparaging dissenting opinions, even in “safe spaces” where you think everyone is in agreement — you never know if there’s someone within your ranks who continually feels like the odd person out.
This allows us as HR leaders to serve a critical function: creating the space for any employee to feel comfortable coming to us if they need support navigating a challenging situation. Because our job is to make sure everyone feels safe coming to us, no matter their beliefs — or ours.
Your 2021 Anti-Bias Guide:
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2. Create spaces for inclusive conversation
I can’t overstate the importance of being proactive here.
According to SHRM, more than 50% of working Americans describe an increase in political conversations at work since 2016. It’s happening, whether we like it or not. So it’s up to us to ensure these workplace discussions are taking place in an appropriate manner and forum.
First, acknowledge that tensions are running high for everyone. If your workforce is especially divided, facilitate group exercises that encourage mutual respect. Remind others (and yourself) that no matter how polarized the political environment may feel right now, that politics are ultimately very nuanced. There are valid opinions all along the political spectrum that are worthy of respect.
Then, focus on your shared company values, which should be something you can all agree on. How do they come into play in the context of an election year?
Next, whether your employee count is six or 6,000, work with volunteers and leaders to facilitate conversations with clear boundaries. These could include giving each person an equal amount of time to speak, or finding times that don’t interrupt the workday. Work with your leadership team to ensure there is no threat or fear of retaliation for speaking up in these forums.
Once you’ve created safe spaces for conversation, encourage employees to keep political chatter to these channels. As important as politics are to many people, the truth is that engaging in it constantly can cause quite a bit of stress. Make sure you’re providing an outlet for people who want to have discussions, while protecting the ones who don’t.
Curious? Learn more about building psychological safety in the workplace.
3. Encourage all employees to vote
Work with your leadership to make voting as easy as possible for your employees. This could include offering time off for voting and volunteering at the polls — or even rewards and incentives to encourage people to do so. Whichever route you take, be mindful not to use language that could be interpreted as influencing employees to vote one way or the other.
Okay, HR & business leaders — you got this. No matter your personal opinions, creating a safe space for all employees is something we can all get behind.