Despite a long and grueling election year guaranteed to exhaust even the most ardent current events follower, there remains a seemingly inexhaustible force of social energy, particularly in the Millennial generation. Unfortunately, in the work environment this political and social energy can cause a tidal wave of conflict and distraction. Depending upon geographical location and company size, if we assume that your employees are representative of the national political profile, that is, roughly 50/50, than the work environment may be divided and ripe for unhealthy communications, cliques, hurt feelings, and disenfranchisement. Here are six ways that might help leaders and managers get ahead of a potential tsunami of disruption, while at the same time harnessing employee energy and steering it in a positive strategic direction:
1. First, leaders must reiterate and reemphasize that employees should be focusing on the strategic or “North Star” goal – the aspirational or overarching reason for the organization’s existence. Be sure that everyone in the organization, from line level to top leadership, understands what the goals and objectives are, as well as their role in achieving them. Recognize and acknowledge any changes in direction that might be due to the macro environment, and explain the new strategy in objective terms. Develop a theme or campaign that helps employees reconnect with the shared mission – that is, to be the top brand, achieve a growth goal, expand into new markets, or increase sustainability or community partnerships. Measure progress, communicate it, and celebrate, emphasizing the strength in unity that was required for the achievement.
2. Leaders should be increasingly diligent about analyzing the external PESTLE environment to get ahead of distracting news or trends that might worry employees. What proactive decisions should be made in the political, economic, social/cultural, technological, legal/regulatory or environmental areas? What should employees know? For example, informing employees about a company award for exceeding industry and regulatory standards by reducing waste and carbon emissions may help ease anxiety surrounding the issue of reduction in EPA regulations, potentially increasing levels of job satisfaction, company loyalty, and purpose in the work-so important to Millennial workers.
3. An important HR role is emphasizing and communicating the type of culture desired for the organization, including the values and behaviors necessary to support an inclusive, diverse, and trusting workplace. If the company culture encourages freedom of expression, including political dialogue, as is the case in some social media companies, it might be wise to set boundaries around what is acceptable conversation, both online and in the workplace. Recognize that not all employees or customers might feel comfortable with political speech or opinions, and that a policy of free expression includes risks such as a public relations crisis, employee complaints, or even a loss of customers. Discourage speech that creates division and discord, and make policies clear. Realize that companies have a First Amendment right to limit certain types of speech in the private workplace.
4. If an incentive or award program is used to motivate employees, consider including a category not based solely on productivity, such as leadership, collaboration, team membership, or communication. Base the criteria on desired behaviors, such as inclusivity, listening, encouraging, mentorship, or positivity, and be sure to highlight the reasons why the candidate won the award.
5. An intuitive leader looks for middle ground and areas of agreement. De-emphasize division and emphasize strength in unity. Whenever possible, build upon and acknowledge organizational strengths such as teamwork, networking, a shared knowledge base, and the achievement of organizational goals. Redirect negative energy toward these areas.
6. To build employee skills, consider communications and psychology-based training for your employees—mindfulness, which can help with engagement, performance and mental clarity; mindset, which helps with learning new perspectives and understanding potential; and emotional intelligence—to support leadership growth, objectivity, and introspection. An important benefit is that these soft skills encourage trust and acceptance between leaders and followers, particularly if the goal is to create an organization that learns and adapts to a dynamic and sometimes turbulent external environment.
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