3 Tips for Helping Employees Cope With Polarising Cultural Issues 

For most people, the presidential election results were rather shocking. And since many people seem to be offended by President Donald Trump’s unapologetic rhetoric, millions are finding it difficult to cope with some of the political changes taking place.

In the days after Trump’s nomination, many businesses around the country had to tread lightly when it came to discussing political topics. People were on edge and the divisive nature of the previous campaign season seemed to reach a dangerous culmination with people on both sides of the party line experiencing an overflow of emotions.

And while this may seem like an isolated situation, it’s certainly not the last time external cultural issues will permeate the walls of the workplace and cause emotions to boil over.

Thanks to social media and continuous news cycles, large cultural issues with social and political ramifications will continue to affect employees.

The question, from an employer’s perspective, is what role do you play in carefully engaging employees in a manner that’s sensitive to their opinions without letting external issues negatively impact internal productivity and output?

How to Internally Handle the Emotions Stemming From External Issues

Now that some of the emotional heat of the election has died down, how can your company deal with the results in a responsible way? Furthermore, how you can internally handle future incidents where employees are emotionally affected by polarising cultural issues? Here are some suggestions:

• Let Results Spur Change

“While this is a time of uncertainty, history has also shown that new forced changes into a complex market can potentially spur further innovation,” says Tom Lee, founder and CEO of SA Ignite.

One way to respond to polarising cultural issues is by using the conversation as a springboard for innovation. Remind employees that we live in a country where change happens on a regular basis and that this change leads to opportunities for growth – personally and professionally.

• Don’t Offer Counseling

While you may have seen reports on the news where colleges and universities offered their students counseling and debriefing opportunities following the election, there’s really no place for this in a professional organisation.

Unless your employees have been directly affected by an issue, you shouldn’t coddle their emotions. Your employees are grown adults and should be treated as such. If you offer counseling every time someone says something offensive or a new law is passed, you’re going to end up shifting focus away from what’s important – the work your employees are supposed to be doing! Encourage counseling on their own time, but remind them that they come to the office for the sole purpose of working.

“My thinking is that we want to keep talk of the election out of the workplace. We want our employees to return to their jobs and to be able to focus,” says Tina Mulder, who oversees a wellness programme at a Manhattan insurance firm. “The debriefing idea, while great for a college or pedagogical setting, doesn’t really belong in the workplace, but I do think that counselling and broader wellness-focused activities are important.”

• Warn Against Overreactions

“Rarely do we see wholesale changes after an election,” says Philippe Weiss, managing director of a Chicago-based workplace consulting firm. “Make workers aware of the [political and governmental] processes, and remind them not to react too quickly.”

This advice seems to ring true regardless of the situation. Remind your employees of this. If they’re having a hard time coming to grips with some larger action or movement that they don’t agree with, encourage them to avoid jumping to conclusions. Instead, have them focus their energy on something they can truly impact.

• Keep the Focus on Work

It’s never a great idea to discuss political and cultural beliefs in the workplace. Sure, some of it happens naturally, but don’t make it a major focal point. You’re always going to offend or ostracise someone – which is bad for productivity and team building.

Instead, make sure your employees focus their energy on work during work hours. That’s the best solution.

Anna Johansson

Image courtesy of kongsky at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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