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Office Politics | Bracing for Post-Election Workplace Interactions

Sheena Daree Miller

No matter your political inclinations or hopes, a lot is at stake in the upcoming U.S. presidential election—and even though many of our workplace conversations have shifted online, it’s only natural to worry about how an election result may affect interactions with colleagues. While talking about politics can be regarded as taboo, there are non-partisan ways to acknowledge, discuss, and process the political climate without isolating employees of different ideologies. 

Illustration by Marian Blair

Acknowledge that politics impact our work and lives

Religion, identities, ethics, and politics shape how we see, experience, and make sense of the world, and we're doing ourselves a disservice if we pretend otherwise. As social-impact professionals committed to making the world a better place, we’re likely to be well-informed about how our organizations, work, and clients will be impacted by shifts in local and national government. 

To avoid fostering hostile environments, we wisely tend to resist bringing politics into workplace conversations. Though this intent promotes collegiality, if too much is left unsaid, the result can instead be distrust and isolation. Just as many organizations addressed (and continue to address) the impacts of the pandemic and calls for racial justice, there are constructive and inclusive ways to address the 2020 election as well. And acknowledging its importance can be done without bashing colleagues who have different opinions from our own.

Set the tone for polite and considerate interactions

Allotting time for people to process the results in their own way is not just compassionate—it’s critical to building trust. Some ideas for broaching the subject without isolating people, or invoking disagreement or further polarization include:

  • Communication from leadership. An email sent before election day, reminding the team that no matter what happens, the organization is committed to working toward a common goal, can go a long way in reminding employees that they are seen and appreciated holistically. Recognizing that some employees may have a harder time with the outcome than others, and encouraging everyone to take time for themselves, signals that you see and value their humanity, and are aware that external circumstances impact work on individual and organization levels.
  • Reinforced values. We may be rooting for certain politicians to be elected under the premise that they will propose changes that both propel our organization’s mission and align with our personal beliefs. But we have to remember that while colleagues may be committed to many of our same values, they can still hold quite different hopes for the election outcome. Instead of arguing over your political differences, focus on the reasons you’re all committed to this line of work. Common aims go a long way in promoting civility. It helps to remember that although you may find someone’s politics objectionable or short-sighted, you don’t need to understand why they feel a particular way—but you do need to treat everyone with respect. 

Pro Tip: Ensure work doesn’t prevent employees from voting. Close the office for the day or allow employees to use work time to vote early. 

Easy ways to hold space and keep the peace 

The goal of holding space for people to process is not to create an open space for political discussion, but rather to offer intentional opportunities for trust-building, and room to take a breath. There are many ways to show employees that while we must continue to do our part to push our organizational aims forward, we’re allowed a moment to reflect and honor the reality that things may not have worked out the way we had hoped. 

  • Schedule an optional departmental or team meditation session. Whether you listen to a recording or have someone lead a live meditation, having a collective space to breathe promotes mindfulness, compassion, and understanding; this can help ground and reconnect everyone. 
  • Encourage people to journal about their responses to the election results. This can be done synchronously or asynchronously and accompanied by a shared playlist. A benefit of this approach is people won’t need to share their feelings or political leanings, but can still have the benefit of processing the outcome, while feeling connected to others.
  • Plan a fun activity. Yes, research demonstrates that play is important, even in our work lives. There are many ways to do so virtually

It’s key to provide context and be transparent. Instead of simply sending an email inviting colleagues to join you for meditation or game night, share that you’re holding the session for the explicit purpose of promoting community during this divisive time. They’ll appreciate it. 

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Sheena Daree Miller

Sheena Daree Miller is based in Brooklyn and divides her time between working in faculty development at a university and managing a black heritage center at a library. She is committed to promoting equity, with an emphasis on supporting graduating students and career changers.

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