UncategorizedJuly 1, 20240

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Can’t we all just get along?

Short answer, no. But wouldn’t it be nice if we could? There’s a lot going on in 2024 and the topic of workplace civility is an important one. So much so that SHRM, the leading workplace expert, has put a lot of resources into making sure we, as leaders, know how to support and encourage this in our organizations this year. Buckle up, because this is a long one.

Full disclosure that this is written mostly from the lens of an HR professional, not necessarily through a DEI lens. If you want that take, please reach out to me. I know some really smart people that can help from that perspective.

Strong Kristi Opinion: While our country has always had free speech rights, I feel like those rights and the manner with which they are shared, took a strong turn in 2020. Maybe I’m wrong, but I feel like 2020 started a divisiveness in our country that just continues. Everyone had an opinion on everything that happened in 2020 (think All Things Covid, Social injustice and unrest, the Supreme Court decision on sexual orientation and THAT election to name a few) and if your opinion did not align with theirs, you were wrong. Period. In fact, sometimes, you were so wrong that we couldn’t be friends anymore or associate with each other. That made me sad and miss the days of being able to agree to disagree. I see that continuing into today, in all aspects of our lives, especially our workplaces.

In a 2023 study by HRAcuity, 52% of employees participating, say that they have experienced or witnessed inappropriate, unethical, or illegal behavior at work. The most prevalent of these behaviors were bullying, sexual harassment and racism. And, participants reported that only 58% of employees actually reported what they saw or experienced. And 2023 was not an election year.

Election years are a gateway to conversations that may not be had in other years. While politics are not a protected class, conversations that come about when discussing politics, can certainly lead to or involve protected class topics. Think sexual orientation, religion and race, to name a few. This can open the door to employees feeling bullied or harassed.

Some friendly legal reminders:

  1. While we have free speech rights in our country, employees actually check those rights at the door, when they come to work. So technically, you can limit what employees talk about. Should you? Probably not. Because…
  2. Section VII of the National Labor Relations Act applies to the vast majority of organization across the country (most likely yours) and provides protection for, what they call, protected, concerted activity. In layman’s terms, that means the things employees are allowed to discuss at work and you can’t tell them not to. While concerted activity doesn’t directly apply to politics, a recent NLRB (those people that govern the NLRA) decision said that an employee writing “BLM” (Black Lives Matter) on an apron was protected under this law.

See what I’m doing here?

So, what do we do about all of this information I just threw at you?

First, I commend SHRM for recognizing that we should put some resources in place to support our organizations and the employees that work there. Here are some tips from them and from me:

  • Address the elephant in the room. Talk to employees about the fact that it is an election year. Encourage respect. Encourage professionalism. And define those.
  • Remind employees that your door is open, that they can come talk to you; to report concerns or simply if they need a safe space.
  • Remind leaders that they are setting the example. If leaders talk about politics, this is indirectly telling their employees that they can/should too.
  • Remember that you can always tell employees to focus on work. While there is risk (even though you legally can) to telling employees what to talk about and what not to talk about, you can always tell them to get back to work.

I hope you’re still with me. I know it was a long one. But it’s so complex and so important. Please reach out to us if we can help you with these discussions or anything else related to this crazy year.

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