Post-Election Civility and Productivity in the Workplace

Author: Mary Gormandy White, M.A., SHRM-SCP, SPHR

Now that November 3, 2020, is in the past, everyone who expected things to get better or "go back to normal" once the election is over has realized (or is coming to realize) that the subject of civility is going to continue to be an issue in the modern workplace. This is the time to focus on building a company culture that is both civil and productive, in which people are treated with respect and are held accountable for showing respect to others.

Lead Through the Divide

While Biden is now President-elect, a very deep divide continues to exist among those who make up the US workforce. Don't fall into the trap of thinking that things improve on their own once a vote count is final. They don't. People still disagree vehemently in a world where they're bombarded with bias via the 24/7 news and social media cycle.

There will always be other elections on the horizon, as well as many polarizing occurrences in between. Rather than sitting back and waiting for things to get better, now is the time to focus on taking steps to ensure that your workplace is both civil and productive, even with employees, leaders and customers whose political opinions vary widely and, in many cases, are in direct opposition to each other.

A Business Case for Civility

Civility and productivity are two very important concepts for organizations. Civility impacts the culture and work environment while productivity is all about efficiency, effectiveness and the bottom line. They're different, but closely related and essential.

  • Civility, it seems, is a necessary condition for productivity. While it could be possible for an organization where civility is the norm to be unproductive, the opposite isn't likely to occur.
  • Instead, civility is a necessary condition for productivity. An organization can't reach its productivity potential without first having a culture where people treat one another with civility.

If you want to boost or maintain productivity in the post-election workplace, it is critical to prioritize civility and make it a part of your organization's culture.

Inclusion and Civility

When considering how to build a culture characterized by civility, it's important to reflect on the concept of workplace inclusion. A basic principle of inclusivity is that people bring their "whole selves" to work - all of who they are. This includes many dimensions of diversity, one of which is their perspective on politics and related topics.

  • In an inclusive organization, it is critical that employees are valued and respected for who they are as unique individuals. And, of course, all employees should be held accountable for extending that same courtesy to others.
  • Think about civility from this perspective: if your organization is inclusive, that means that employees are expected to be respectful of one another and work together without letting such differences get in the way of behavior or results.

In this extremely divisive election season , employees have been allowed to introduce political commentary in the work environment in a way that is toxic rather than respectful, inclusive or conducive to productivity - even in organizations that are committed to inclusion.

Civility and Behavior

Your organization probably has employees who differ significantly along one or more dimension of diversity, and this impacts what is considered acceptable workplace behavior. For example:

  • You wouldn't allow employees to call each other names based on religious beliefs or yell at each other about whose religion is better at work. That would lead to a lack of civility, as well as a negative impact culture and productivity alike.
  • Yet, in today's highly charged political environment, in many places of business, employees are calling each other names based on political opinions and screaming at each other about why their candidates or preferred policies are better.

If such behaviors aren't okay with regards to religion or other dimensions of diversity, then they're also not okay when the subject is politics, or any other topic that would lead to behaviors that damage the organization.

Make Respect the Norm

When civility is not the norm for how people treat one another in the workplace, that is a sign that the organization's culture is not characterized by respect. If you want your work environment to be civil, that means that respectful communication must be the norm - not just with regards to discussions about politics, but about everything. Respect has to permeate every aspect (and level) of the organization if it is to become a norm.

  • Look internally to see if there are practices that need to change. For example, if your employee satisfaction surveys or exit interviews indicate that workers don't feel respected by management, that needs to be corrected.
  • If respect and civility have not been the norm, let employees know that things are going to change. Handle it as you would any kind of culture change, with leaders modeling appropriate behaviors and owning issues from the past. Seek buy-in for how things will be moving forward and focus on building accountability.
  • Implement learning and development opportunities focused on promoting respectful communication as a way of making sure that employees and leaders alike have the skills necessary to communicate respectfully. Focus on building strong, cohesive teams.
  • Don't continue to tolerate workplace communication or behaviors that are not respectful. Accountability is key. It involves disallowing toxic behavior in the workplace, even if it means that some employees can't work there anymore.

Productivity Begins With a Civil Culture

Be purposeful about building your company's culture, including expectations for civility and productivity. If there are no consequences for behaving in a manner that is not civil, then such behaviors will continue to disrupt the workplace and limit productivity. A company that wants civility to be infused throughout its culture must hold employees at every level accountable for behaving in a civil manner, even about politics. This is the path to preventing productivity from being negatively impacted by draining energy and resources away from producing results.