Credit: World Economic Forum

How to deal with political fall-outs at work

As the election climaxes there's the potential for workers to clash over their beliefs.

by Jack Torrance
Last Updated: 02 Jul 2015

After a campaign that's dragged on for ages, in a week's time we'll finally know the outcome of the election – although probably not who's going to form the next Government. As the parties begin horsetrading in a bid to hold on to – or seize – ministerial jobs, tensions can run high, and there will be a lot of uncertainty about who will lead the country.

There's a danger of this spilling over into the workplace. We've all met people who talk about their political views a bit too much at work – whether it's the outspoken Ukipper who just can't tell enough people about how Nigel Farage is the only politician who understands the common man, or the bolshy trade union rep who still can't forgive Margaret Thatcher.

Ok, so political tension in the workplace might not be all that common, but conflict between staff members over any kind of personal issue can be problematic. 'From our recent survey, the number one thing that comes up as a consequence of conflict is the impact on well-being and motivation,' says Jonny Gifford, a research adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. 'Something like one in six of all employees have experienced stress as a result of workplace conflict and something like one in seven has had a drop in motivation.'

Personal fall-outs about issues like politics are arguably trickier for managers to deal with than disagreements over work related things, because it's harder to come up with a solution to personal differences than problems with the way your business works. That doesn't mean you shouldn't get involved if things are getting out of hand though.

'You can be stepping in to intervene, but that doesn’t need to be heavy handed,' adds Gifford. 'It doesn’t need to be intervention in the sense of bashing heads together or laying down the law. You can be sensitive and you can do it at an early stage – one of the best approaches is having that open conversation – saying, "There’s clearly some tension here, can we sort this out? Do you want to talk about it how can I help?"'

Don't go all Big Brother on your staff though – Gifford says banning all talk of political issues between colleagues, at least internally, might not go down well. 'You’ve got to be a little careful,' he says. 'I wouldn’t see any reason to put out a decree that you can’t talk to colleagues about politics.'

Perhaps it might even be good to focus on celebrating difference. 'It’s not that everybody has to be harmonious – that’s one of the big myths of teams, that we’re all supposed to drink the Kool-aid and sing Kumbaya,' says leadership coach Tim Taylor, of Making Great Leaders. 'Really good teams are filled with diverse people with very different opinions and those opinions actually can spark real innovation because they're coming at this idea or problem from a very different perspective.'

Even at the more extreme end of the spectrum there's always going to be some common ground, Taylor adds, but you've got to draw the line somewhere.

'In terms of trying to keep the workplace together ultimately you’ve got to get people signed up to at least a set of values that says "this behaviour is acceptable, this behaviour isn’t",' he says. 'All the great leadership in the world can’t stop people from being very, very difficult.' In those circumstances it  gets to a point where you need to lay down the law.

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