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Workers are avoiding their colleagues because of conflicting political views—and employers are afraid to choose sides, HR expert says

July 27, 2022, 8:48 AM UTC
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Employers must be clear where they stand on divisive political issues as the American workforce navigates “extreme cultural conflict,” according to a top personnel expert.

In multiple surveys of hundreds of U.S. workers in 2020, Gartner HR found that 44% of Americans have actively avoided coworkers because of their political views.

Describing the current social climate as “a period of extreme cultural and political conflict,” Gartner said political differences among employees had partially been brought on by companies who told their workers to bring their whole selves to work.

“That’s actually created conflict,” Brian Kropp, distinguished VP of research at Gartner, told Fortune.

He added that Gartner’s research showed three-quarters of workers expected their employer to get involved in political debates.

Picking a side

When it came to workers wanting their employers to speak out on potentially contentious issues, one-third generally wanted their company to be on one side, one-third wanted them on the other side, and the final third were indifferent to their employer’s political opinions.

Kropp said this meant many companies found themselves backed into a corner.

“Companies are thinking, ‘if I speak out, the third that supports it will be more engaged, the third that doesn’t will challenge me,’” he told Fortune.

“The problem is, when you stay quiet everyone thinks you’re on the other side. What you have to do as an organization, as a CEO, as a leader, is take a step back and think about what your values are as a company and what you stand for as an organization. Does this political or cultural issue matter, does it impact your values?”

For example, he said, if you’re a company that’s spoken out about diversity and creating opportunities for women, staying silent on abortion doesn’t fit with those values.

“Once you’ve decided what you’re going to do, you need to explain to your workforce why you’ve spoken out about it—why it aligns with your values,” Kropp said.

“And just saying you support an issue isn’t enough. The people that agree with you think obviously think it’s important, so do something about it. If you don’t put your resources, time and budget against it, you disappoint everyone.”

Kropp advised employers to choose a handful of issues that are important to the company and what it stands for.  

“That then lets you decide what you won’t get involved in, and helps you explain why,” he said. “The problem is a lot of companies just react to headlines rather than having a [solid] philosophy.”

One more risk

Walking a political tightrope could adds another layer of risk for employers who are already struggling to hold onto staff in the wake of the pandemic.

People have been leaving their jobs in droves over the past few years as workers search for better pay, benefits and fulfilment—and it’s a movement that’s showing no sign of slowing down.

Employers should be preparing for the Great Resignation to continue, according to Gartner, which expects higher levels of turnover to be “a permanent reality of post-pandemic hybrid work.”

“It’s easier to change jobs, you don’t have to move to change jobs—even in a hybrid world you might put up with an hour and a half, two-hour commute twice a week,” Kropp said. “Companies should plan on their turnover rate being 20% higher [than pre-pandemic levels] forever into the future.”

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