Monday, October 6, 2008
Politics and Money Worries: A Volatile Mixture on the Job
There's no escaping the economic news lately, and most of us go to work every day just trying not to think about our dwindling 401(k) plans or pensions. But even if we're trying to block it out, most of us are carrying an extra level of stress as we try to do a job already demanding more of of us than even a year ago.
Add to that the upcoming presidential election, and we're creating a volatile situation where our workplace can become a boiling point for a lot of pent-up anxieties, says one workplace expert.
Christine Probett, a San Diego State University lecturer and former Goodrich executive, says workers are increasingly anxious, frightened and emotional about the future, and that nervousness with the economy means that clear communications from top brass are critical.
“When people get nervous – as they are now with the economy – it’s really important that companies keep their workers informed about what is going on,” says Christine Porbett. “If they don’t, the rumors will start to fly. People will begin making stuff up.”
I recently interviewed Probett for my Gannett News Service/USAToday.com column, and she says that she was once told by an employee that the way the employee separated fact from fiction was by asking three different people about a rumor. If it was confirmed by those three people, then the employee accepted it as fact – and that meant she could pass it along to other workers.
“In a company, there are enough rumors going around that you can get 100 people to confirm a rumor as fact,” Probett says. “Just because you heard it doesn’t make it fact, but that’s how it happens.”
She says any during tough economic times, every closed-door meeting can spawn speculation among employees.
“If management has a meeting, they better come out of that meeting and communicate about what was discussed with the people who work there,” Probett says. “Even if all they can say is that they can’t talk about it. It’s better than out-and-out-lying about what was said."
Further, Probett says the upcoming elections also have added another layer of drama to a workplace that is already trying to deal with workers stressed by rising consumer prices, unemployment and unsettling news from Wall Street.
She says that employees must be very careful about what they say regarding elections at work, because they might be setting the stage for what is known as a "hostile work environment".
Specifically, under federal law, a “hostile work environment” means that “unwelcome comments or conduct based on sex, race or other legally protected characteristics unreasonably interferes with an employee’s work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.”
“A lot of people are talking about this election, and it brings up a lot of issues,” Probett says. “We’re either going to have an African-American man as president, or a woman as vice president. There’s a lot of energy and emotion tied up in that. Diversity is one of those issues that creates a lot of tension and disagreement in the workplace, because sometimes it’s hard for one person to understand where someone else is coming from.”
That's why it's important that employees clearly understand what they can and cannot say at work regarding the election. If they're not clear, and the company has no set policy, it might be best to keep a low profile regarding political views. According to an American Management Association survey, 35 percent of business people said they are uncomfortable discussing their political views with colleagues.
“I would discourage people from wearing buttons supporting a specific candidate or party, and not allow signage or fundraising while at work,” Probett says.
If you're having problems with someone at work regarding politics, Probett says you should resolve it as you do any conflict.
“Don’t let the issue get bigger. Talk to the person, and tell them what you believe the problem to be. Don’t name call, and make sure you listen when they talk. Once you understand where the other person is coming from, try to come to a resolution. Then, move on. Don’t hold a grudge,” she says.
Are you feeling more stress on the job? How are you handling it?