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Political fervor can rock the workplace – so be sensitive to it

Diane Stafford is workplace columnist for The Kansas City Star
Diane Stafford is workplace columnist for The Kansas City Star

Fear is a force to be reckoned with in the workplace.

Some human resource officers are seeing the well-documented fight-or-flight mechanism kicking in among co-workers, and they’re worried.

The sharply divided electorate is tense, not just about election results on Nov. 8 but about what might happen afterward. National news reports are quoting people who plan to engage in armed marches on Washington if the presidential winner isn’t their choice.

The incredible divisiveness of this election season – in which people have formed opinions on radically different sets of “facts” – is pervading the workplace. It’s building on worker unrest about being left behind in post-recession income gains, about struggling in downsized workplaces, or about continuing to lose jobs because of global competition and technology changes.

Seventy percent of human resource officials said in a Society for Human Resource Management national poll that their workforces were more concerned than ever about this presidential election.

On top of that, distrust of authority, any authority, is high. Poll results, too, are discounted.

But it’s clear that some workplaces are witnessing the fight mechanism, evidenced in outbursts, hostility and active efforts to disrupt management directives. Others see the flight mechanism in disengaged, “checked-out” employees or higher rates of absenteeism.

We can’t change fears by simply saying, “Oh, don’t worry,” or, “This, too, shall pass.” Much as we’d like, major divisions will stick around.

All we can do as individual workers or managers is to be sensitive to heightened sensitivities.

Diane Stafford is a columnist for The Kansas City Star. stafford@kcstar.com, 816-234-4359, @kcstarstafford, kansascity.com/workplace

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