Your company is more like Google than you think. You have similar respect-in-the-workplace problems.

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A few weeks ago, I delivered a #MeToo presentation to a local chapter of HR professionals. Our dialogue evolved into a discussion of other “respect in the workplace” topics with which many companies are presently wrestling.

The trouble with politics at work.

One of the audience members volunteered that her workplace has struggled at times with heated employee conversations about politics and other politically-charged issues. The type of chatter from which one could slide quickly down a slippery slope into a potentially hostile work environment.

For example — my example, not hers — two employees could begin by discussing a travel ban or building a wall, and before you know it, they’re engaging in a less-than-respectful conversation about religion, race, and national origin.

Well, after one audience member spoke up, others in the audience echoed that these issues were creating problems in their workplaces as well.

Now, the purpose of this blog post is not to lay blame at the feet of either major political party. Indeed, I know from my Twitter and Facebook feeds that both sides can communicate with one another in ways ranging from respectful disagreement to downright vitriolic attacks. It’s often the latter.

And social media exacerbates the problems. For not only do so many people use it to communicate, but it’s so easy to share those communications. So, when it comes to political speech, we are inundated with negativity. If/when that spills over into the workplace, it creates a big problem for many employers.

Including at Google.

Google’s ‘Community Guidelines’

Douglas MacMillan at the Wall Street Journal reports here (subscription required) that Google wants to limit offensive language and personal attacks. If you can’t access the WSJ article because of the paywall, check out my friend Suzanne Lucas’s article at Inc. She notes that Google has done a 180 of sorts. That is, the company has gone from “encourag[ing] message boards and the like to discuss non-work issues” to “finding it necessary to create clear policies about what constitutes harassment, including rules against doxxing–releasing personal information–as retaliation.”

Back to the WSJ article. As Mr. MacMillan reports, Google intends to foster workplace civility through a newly-created set of ‘Community Guidelines’. Now, you won’t find anything in there that specifically references political speech. Heck, I’m pretty sure that would be unlawful in California. But, Mr. MacMillian notes that “[t]he rules aim to curb so-called trolling—in which people are deliberately provocative or offensive online in order to elicit strong reactions—as well as ‘blanket statements about groups or categories of people.'”

Over at Wired, Nitasha Tiku’s report cites a Google spokesperson who says that “the company sought to clarify and formalize its policies after noticing incivility on all sides of internal debates around diversity and politics.” (my emphasis)

Incivility and politics. That sounds familiar.

Good on Google for communicating updated policies to address these concerns. According to Ms. Tiku’s article, the new code of conduct “follows a petition demanding a safer workplace that gathered 2,000 employee signatures in three days when it was introduced in February; there are now 2,600 signers.”

And speaking of communication, that’s the big takeaway here.

If your workplace suffers from political conversation gone bad, talk to your employees about their actions and the risks relating to political discussions at work. To be clear, I’m not suggesting censorship. But, I do suggest educating employees about your rules governing respect in the workplace. Remnd them that whatever may go on in the outside world, within the four walls of the workplace, you hold employees to a higher standard for which violations lead to discipline up to and including termination of employment.

“Doing What’s Right – Not Just What’s Legal”