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The global workforce today is the most diverse and blended in the history of humankind. We have Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y, and now iGen all working and living together. Simultaneously, we are more vocal and outspoken than ever before as well. It’s an incredible challenge for human resource departments to manage the various personalities, morals, and beliefs evenly and fairly.

If you turn on the news, you will see that protests are happening more frequently all over the county–and the world, for that matter. I believe a huge part of this comes from social media, because social media shines a light on areas where there was darkness. It also gives a microphone to those who would otherwise not have one, and subsequently, everyone wants to be heard.

Impact of Protests

There have been political demonstrations and protests regarding police brutality in places like Texas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Missouri, New York, Louisiana,  Washington, California, and Arizona. These protests have gone international with demonstrations in London, Berlin, and Amsterdam.

In Tennessee, a major bridge was shut down for several hours as 1,000 protesters gathered, causing major gridlock and problems for warehouse managers, truck drivers, and supply chain logistics for local businesses. Between wages, fuel costs, and billable hours and overtime for police officers, it’s estimated that hundreds of thousands of dollars were lost.

The University of Missouri’s freshman enrollment is reported to have dropped by as much as 23% due to recent campus protests, causing a $32 million budget shortfall.

Are you prepared if politics and protests collide at work? Here are some real-life examples.

Scenario #1
One day an employee wears a “Black Lives Matter” t-shirt to work. Another employee is offended by this action, which prompts him to wear an “Blue Lives Matter” t-shirt the next day. And that causes yet another employee to wear an “All Lives Matter” t-shirt to work the following day. And naturally, all three come to your office to complain and file charges of racism. What’s your office policy?

Scenario #2
It’s an election year in the United States, and it has been a very heated and divisive contest surrounded with election protests. So, what if someone wears an “I’m with Her” (as in Hiliary Clinton) t-shirt and someone else wears a “Stump for Trump” (as in Donald Trump) t-shirt and it causes a heated debate that nearly turns physical? Are you equipped to handle this type of situation?

Scenario #3
Or what would you do if one of your employees refuses to provide service to a police officer as a protest, and the exchange goes viral? Now your company is thrown into the headlines for the actions of one employee who has a problem with law enforcement.

4 Ways to Manage Civil Unrest, Politics, and Protests at Work

  1. Examine and update your policies. If you don’t have a policy on this, then create one. Be sure your policy starts with a statement of respect and appreciation of diversity, and then reiterate the importance of mutual respect, empathy, and compassion. Then, outline the policy which should in plain language detail the company’s stance on highly sensitive issues and expected behavior for all employees.
  2. Be tough but fair. Every workforce has potential for unrest–don’t think it won’t happen to you. Be prepared by making it clear that bullying, name calling, threats, intimidation, and personal conflicts will not be tolerated. Remember your Title VII of the Civil Rights Act training – know your protected classes and do not allow anyone to violate them on your watch.
  3. Interact with your employees (pay attention). When managers and directors walk through the doors and head straight for their offices, avoiding contact with employees, they miss opportunities to humanize themselves with their workforce. When your employees see you as more than the boss, they are more likely to share with you what’s going on in their lives and in your organization.
  4. Mind your manners. Remember when your parents said you should never discuss sex, politics, and religion in polite conversation? When reminding employees of proper workplace etiquette, be sure to let them know that although they have Freedom of Speech, their words do have consequences, and this freedom does not give them the right to say whatever they want whenever they want, especially if it’s offensive, discriminatory, threatening, hateful, or even just insensitive.

Companies need to work with HR and other departments to gauge the pulse of your workforce and try to maintain peace and professionalism in an increasingly unstable environment, in order to keep civil unrest and protest from infiltrating the workplace.

Are you prepared if the civil unrest will affect your company?

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  • Samantha says:

    Every employee should know it’s better to keep political, religious and ideological opinions to themselves and not participate in conflict discussions in order to keep a relaxed working atmosphere. When a tense situation exists between employees or even between employees and customers, a proper examination of the policies and drastic measures are needed. 

  • Alana G. says:

    I’ve encountered a similar situation at the office. Employees had different opinions regarding police and started an argument over how the situation should’ve been handled. It was a difficult situation for the company to restore order, but after several discussions between the HR department, employees, and their direct manager, the situation has calmed, and the organization’s policies were updated.

  • Chester Z. says:

    Really interesting article. What to do when angry crowds from the streets move to the office and disturb other employees? From my point of view, the effort should be on all levels. The HR department has to make sure employees are respecting the company’s policies, and managers have to find out more about their team’s activity and opinions in order to foresee a possible conflict. Also, employees should avoid discussions with high risks of turning into disputes.

  • Chris says:

    Thank you Chester, that is a perfect example of what to do.

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