4 Ways to Keep Politics From Dividing the Workplace

February 23, 2018, 12:30 PM UTC

Recent political news can seem like an all-consuming sideshow, with each day bringing more gory details of national strife and division. The challenge for great companies? Preventing toxic political discourse from seeping into the workplace.

So we asked folks—some in the business of counseling Fortune 500 companies—how they’re advising their employees and their customers. Here, four takeaways:

1. Create a Culture That Can Withstand Conflict

G&S Business Communications CEO Luke Lambert got out ahead of any potential problem by launching a regular program for “healthy discourse and debate.” After the rough-and-tumble presidential election ended last year, New York City–based G&S gathered employees “representing different political views,” Lambert says, “for a discussion about the outcome.” Since then, the company has hosted regular workshops on issues such as ­LGBTQ workplace struggles and even the narcotics crisis.

Dropbox office
Courtesy of Dropbox
Courtesy of Dropbox

2. Come to the Rescue

At Dropbox, a San Francisco startup, an Iraqi-born employee feared leaving the country for work after the travel ban was issued. To make matters worse, he was also scheduled for a naturalization interview. The company helped Bashar Al-Rawi by arranging legal help—the COO even reached out directly. “The tremendous support meant a lot to me,” Al-Rawi says. Such reassurances—and help—won’t go unnoticed by the rest of the company’s employees.

3. Do No Harm

Edward Reilly, a senior adviser at Washington-based FTI Consulting, warns that executives should tread lightly when speaking out on certain issues—taking sides with, say, Democrat lawmakers over Republicans, for instance. Leaders of consumer product and service firms should especially be wary. “Many corporate executives speak to issues that they feel are aligned with their customer interests,” he says, but it’s easy to misfire. For example, Papa John’s founder John Schnatter stepped down as CEO after he publicly blamed the NFL player protests for harming his sales. The company, a big NFL sponsor, apologized. Apparently he forgot both Republicans and Democrats eat pizza.

Related: See the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For 2018 list.

4. Proximity breeds affection

Louis Carter is CEO of the Best Practice Institute in West Palm Beach, Fla., and like Lambert of G&S he thinks building the right culture will head off most problems. And if it doesn’t? “Seat people with the highest degree of [political] conflict next to each other.” People will listen more closely to an opposing viewpoint if it comes from their cubicle-mate.

A version of this article appears in the March 2018 issue of Fortune with the headline “Politics in the Workplace.”