It has been generally agreed upon over the years that religion and politics are two topics that are not to be discussed in polite company – and that usually extends to polite companies as well. Perhaps it should have come as little surprise, then, that respondents in the latest IPA Pulse Survey on policies and practices during election season overwhelmingly expressed a desire to tamp down any potentially polarizing intraoffice political displays or discussions as November 3rd approaches.
In fact, the distaste for any additional political opining may have been the reasoning behind the low turnout for the survey itself, as our own get-out-the-vote efforts apparently didn’t really catch fire this time around, with fewer than half the number of responses of other IPA pulse surveys conducted earlier this year. Those respondents who did take the time to weigh in were generous with their comments, helping to illuminate the challenges of maintaining an even corporate keel amid a highly charged political environment.
In terms of political messaging and/or displays among staff while in the physical or virtual office, most respondents report not having a specific policy in place, but feel they are covered by existing caveats in their social media policies and general employee handbooks. In other cases, the “no politics” policy is seen as an unwritten but well-known office standard. And apparently these approaches are working, with 91% of respondents saying they haven’t had to deal with any negative political issues among staff in past election seasons.
While no respondents in the survey reported having any kind of plan in place to deal with post-election tensions or emotions among employees (although one thought it might not be a bad idea, noting “Maybe we should… we do have a mental health campaign we are launching for this quarter that will be helpful”), about one-third are taking some action to encourage staff to participate in the election itself – from making Election Day a Zoom-free day to allowing paid time off for employees to get out and vote and/or volunteer at a polling place.
Beyond just the election, however, the current political climate does seem to be hindering some firms in trying to promote diversity, equity and inclusion, with half of respondents saying their efforts in these areas have become more complicated these days. Among the representative comments from survey participants experiencing this challenge:
“The current political environment is very polarizing and divisive, which can work against efforts to build an inclusive workplace.”
“Emotions and anxiety are high across the board, which makes these topics more difficult than usual right now. We’re also experiencing an unusually divisive political cycle.”
“Unfortunately, this political climate is so toxic that I think good and sensible discussions are hard to have since these issues have been hijacked by both extremes of the political spectrum.”
“Some people are quite vocal and others remain skeptical. Everything about 2020 has been more difficult than normal.”
Difficult or not, however, at least one respondent says the firm is forging ahead – and in fact using the divisiveness of the moment as the compelling reason to do so: “If you’re committed to diversity and inclusion then you proceed. Frankly, this political and social climate highlights differences that have allowed conversations to occur that may never have in the past. We’re better for it.”
That said, when it comes to actively promoting or encouraging dialogue on potentially divisive issues, from political views to Black Lives Matter to climate change, most respondents prefer to retreat to the old axiom cited at the top of this piece – the less politics in the office, the better. But like most issues today, there remain two sides to this debate. While one respondent noted, for example, that political views are “not something the firm gets into” and something “we leave outside the office and just try to work while in the office,” at least one other said “We have a diverse workforce, so listening to others’ perspectives is healthy for all of us to understand differing experiences and views, and to learn how to navigate these differences as a team.”
IPA thanks everyone who shared their thoughts and insights in this Pulse Survey.
Please send us your thoughts on what you want to see in future IPA Pulse Surveys. You may forward your ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.