Office Politics 2016 v 2.0

Monday October 10, 2016 comments

Office Politics 2016 v 2.0

Less than a month to go and mudslinging is taking a new slog this election. I suspect it will get worse. A quick rundown of the last few days and what’s next:

  • On Friday, we first heard of a video of Trump 11 years ago being pretty much as crass as everyone knew he could be;
  • Over the weekend we saw shock and outrage from people in both camps, and a whole lot of talk about it and numerous showings of the video;
  • Last night at the debates, this video and his words were discussed.
  • In response, Trump brought up the indiscretions and behaviors of Hillary’s husband while in the Oval Office and her response to that back then;
  • Trump also referred to some of those women with their alleged grievances against Bill and Hillary, pointing out that those women were there at the debate, presumably at his invitation;
  • That probably means that the other side will produce women with alleged grievances against Trump any moment now;
  • Videos are now flying both ways and more will come.

What does this have to do with your workplace? Sexual harassment. People may think it’s totally ok to repeat what has been aired on the news, what’s has been discussed in debates, or what’s shown up in their newsfeed in your workplace. It might not be.

Crude names for genitalia, references to sexual assault, discussions about specific things that happened in the Oval Office – all of it can create a classic case of a hostile work environment. But even if it didn’t, you as a leader get to determine what you want in your workplace.

Our society sends some pretty confusing messages to your employees about sexual harassment. Things that air on prime time TV or show up in Super Bowl halftime shows may not be appropriate in the workplace. The difference when it’s media is that the individual is in control. She can turn off the TV. He can change the channel.

So what should you do? I look at these events as another opportunity to reinforce your culture, your values, and your norms. It also brings up a good time to keep legal issues like sexual harassment top of mind.

  • Remember it’s your workplace. If you’re a private employer, no one has the right of free speech that employees of a public employer do. There is a lot you can curb while people are on work time in work locations. Whatever you allow or deny needs to fit the culture and values of your organization. And not be illegal.
  • Decide where you want to fall on this one. If yours is a culture of being pretty thick-skinned, and you don’t want to do something that dampens your kind of morale, do nothing. There are bigger sexual harassment issues to focus on. If yours is a workplace that is more caring and respectful, you may want to prevent the repeating of some of the crude talk that is getting a lot of airplay. And if you want no political talk at all, that’s your prerogative;
  • Set a standard. You probably already have a general policy related to sexual harassment. Now is the time to get specific. As in today. If you want to prevent talk that could be offensive due to this political climate, communicate by email or whatever mechanism you use. An ounce of prevention…
  • Set the tone. You don’t have to be draconian to curtail talk that could be less than respectful. It can even be lighthearted. You could start off by just asking, “Who would have thought we’d have to talk about this related to our Presidential election?” Most people will be in agreement with you.
  • Reinforce open dialogue. Encourage people to ask others to stop the discussion if they are bothered by it, and then remind them of the recourse if that doesn’t work.
  • Get ready to correct. Be quick to respond, be clear, and be consistent. You may want to decide how you will respond before you need to. Correction and coaching should be your go to when it’s the level of talk that has occurred so far in this election. Leave disciplinary action to the more egregious behaviors, or for a repeat of behaviors you have previously addressed.
  • Set an example. Whatever you decide to do, model it. Your culture is created by everything you do, say, promote, or allow. This is an excellent time to lead.

John Maxwell likes to say, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” There are a whole lot of things you can look at one way and see a threat, and yet look at another way and see an opportunity. As weird as this political season is going, and as divided as our country has become, many people may wonder what a real leader is. You have an opportunity to be the definition of a good leader that your people need to see. Lead on.


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