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Four steps to stem political disruption at work

Take it outside: That’s the overarching advice for any employee who feels the need to share political opinions at work.

Just weeks before what is expected to be rousing Republican and Democratic national conventions, the presidential campaign has elevated political tension in the United States.

Passionate supporters and detractors of Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are in some cases bringing their passions to the job, and human resource experts wish they wouldn’t.

Political “discussion” often ends badly, with loud voices, anger and lingering hostilities. Camaraderie is hurt. Work teams suffer.

The Society for Human Resource Management says 75 percent of its members discourage political activities in the workplace, but only 25 percent have written policies to define what is acceptable and what is not.

Among organizations with such policies, two-thirds prohibit overt campaigning or fundraising for candidates in the workplace. Two-thirds ban workers from using their positions to coerce contributions or activities from employees. A similar share also bars the use of employers’ assets to support candidates or parties.

But no policy can prohibit feelings. It falls to corporate culture – showing a pattern of what is considered acceptable and what is not – and individual behavior to keep inflamed politics at bay.

It is important for employers to monitor such discussions to ensure that they do not lead to bullying or threatening behaviors between employees or become a significant drag on productivity.

Edward Yost, human resource business partner at Society for Human Resource Management

“Generally speaking, employers cannot have policies that prohibit all political discussions, as this is considered protected concerted activity under the National Labor Relations Board,” said Edward Yost, human resource business partner at the society.

But, Yost added, “it is important for employers to monitor such discussions to ensure that they do not lead to bullying or threatening behaviors between employees or become a significant drag on productivity.”

More realistically, each of us needs to set our own barriers. Don’t like what a co-worker is saying about a candidate or cause? Try this:

▪  Ask them to stop. Be polite about it, but be direct. Say “I’m not comfortable talking about politics at work” or “I’m too busy to talk about that.”

▪  Simply walk away or get really busy with your work. Ignore them.

▪  Remind yourself that the talker probably isn’t attacking you personally. A little thick skin can help defuse your reaction.

▪  Don’t attempt to argue facts or positions. You’re exceedingly unlikely to change opinions.

This isn’t to say that you should ignore outright hate speech. You have a right to complain to management about repeated slurs against any class of people.

If it’s clear that bosses or owners need to call a timeout, they should convene a staff meeting or issue reminders about what is OK and what is not.

Violators should be subject to disciplinary actions, starting with a verbal warning, followed by a written warning and escalating to termination for repeated policy abuse.

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

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