CASE STUDY

How To Manage Opposing Staff Ideologies and Maintain a Positive Workplace Culture

The U.S. has become increasingly divided, especially along political lines. Personal sentiment on political issues often spills over into the workplace. Government employees, in particular, may be fiercely loyal to a political party. Political disagreements can spark tension and lead to heated debates. Employees with opposing ideologies may become judgmental of one another and this could create a toxic work environment.

So how do you manage politics at work? Banning all political discussion is not practical in public sector organizations nor does it foster an inclusive culture. The solution lies in building an organizational culture that allows employees to express their viewpoints while remaining respectful to those with differing opinions.

How Opposing Staff Ideology Can Impact Workplace Culture

Workplace culture consists of the values, beliefs and behaviors practiced in an organization. Every employee comes with their own personal set of values and beliefs. In a healthy workplace culture, employees feel valued, respected and safe to express their opinion.

However, when employees clash over political views, it can damage the organization’s culture in the following ways:

1. Increases Conflict

Conflict in the workplace over political standpoints has increased in recent years. A survey from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) in 2019 found that 42% of Americans said they’d personally experienced political arguments at work and 44% said they’d witnessed political disagreements take place with other people.

To avoid being attacked, some employees may clam up and stop expressing their views. Employees are not always going to agree on political viewpoints but your organizational culture should encourage everyone to respect each other’s beliefs.

2. Inhibits Productivity

The more time employees spend debating politics, the less time they spend engaged in their work. Should these debates turn the office into a battleground, opposing employees can become so hostile that they may avoid or refuse to work with certain coworkers. This type of toxic workplace culture impacts productivity. Conflict between employees can weaken teamwork, reduce employee engagement and result in poor quality work.

3. Reduces Employee Morale

According to the SHRM survey, over a third of Americans expressed that their workplace is not inclusive of different political perspectives. One in 10 said they’ve either experienced or witnessed differential treatment because of political views or affiliations.

When employees don’t feel safe expressing their views, it can lead to a drop in morale. Minority groups, in particular, may feel invalidated or victimized, especially on issues related to race, gender or ethnic culture.

Employees who feel their political views don’t fit with the organization’s culture are more likely to leave your organization for one that has an inclusive workplace culture.

How To Navigate Politics in the Workplace

Because public-sector employees work for the government, they are entitled to freedom of speech without fear of retaliation. This, however, does not mean it’s a free for all. Employees should always remain respectful to one another.

Here’s how to navigate politics in the workplace in a constructive way.

1. The Leadership Should Set The Tone

According to a survey by Reflektive {https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20191211005024/en/Reflektive-Survey-More-Than-Half-of-Your-Employees-Are-Talking-Politics-at-Work#:~:text=Almost%20a%20third%20of%20American,debates%20between%20American%20co%2Dworkers.}, 56% of men and 40% women worry that disagreeing with the political views of their boss or coworkers could negatively affect their performance review.

As a leader, you need to model inclusivity and mutual respect. Create a positive workplace culture where employees feel comfortable sharing their political views by:

  • Remaining neutral. Don’t allow your beliefs to color your relationship with employees.
  • Creating a space where employees feel safe to share their views and are open to hearing other people’s perspectives.
  • Encourage employees to discuss their concerns with you and report inappropriate behavior.

2. Establish the Rules of Engagement

To maintain a respectful workplace culture, it’s important to set some ground rules. These can include:

  • Developing guidelines on how to engage in political or other sensitive discussions and what the consequences are if anyone oversteps the line. This could form part of your diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) policy.
  • Protecting employees who do not wish to discuss politics. Do not push anyone to engage in political conversations or allow others to bait them into one.

3. Encourage Open-mindedness

Open-minded individuals tend to be more tolerant of opposing views. Encourage employees to be open to hearing a different viewpoint that may challenge their own assumptions.

To reduce conflict, try to get opposing employees to find common ground. Ask them to consider what it is they like about the other side’s position or mutually agree on. Most importantly, remind them not to take things personally. While one employee may not like another employee’s view, they can still like and respect the person.  

4. Take Action Against Inappropriate Behavior

At no point should political arguments cause employees to feel threatened or disrupt the workplace. If political arguments escalate to a level where intimidation, aggression, insults or any other inappropriate behavior occurs, action must be taken against the offender. If conflict cannot be resolved amicably, you may need to implement disciplinary action or terminate the offending employee's employment should their behavior persist.

Key Takeaways

Politics at work can be tricky to manage. It starts with a positive workplace culture — one in which employees are free to express their political views without causing division in the organization. If your organization is struggling with this, don’t be afraid to get professional help. CPS HR Consulting works with public sector organizations to improve workplace culture. Contact us at 916.263.3600 or fill out our online form.

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Regina W. Romeo

Ms. Romeo has more than 20 years of experience in public sector human resources as an analyst, manager and director. In her role as Chief Human Resources Officer, she is responsible for managing the day-to-day HR operations and organizational development for CPS while also consulting and managing special projects for clients. Regina has worked for both large and small public sector agencies and brings a unique perspective and real-world experience to her role.

About CPS HR Consulting

CPS HR Consulting is a self-supporting public agency providing a full range of integrated HR solutions to government and nonprofit clients across the country.  Our strategic approach to increasing the effectiveness of human resources results in improved organizational performance for our clients.  We have a deep expertise and unmatched perspective in guiding our clients in the areas of organizational strategy, recruitment and selection, classification and compensation, and training and development.