COVID-19… Immigration… Gender Roles… Civil Unrest… and dare I say it… Politics. The list of issues that have polarized our nation goes on and on, with new ones emerging on an almost daily basis. Rather than being disinterested bystanders on the sidelines, everyone seems to be picking a side and defending their territory – including your employees! As disconcerting as the current environment may seem, differences of opinions and worldviews are nothing new in our democracy, and vigorous debate is, in fact, one of our strengths. But that doesn’t mean business leaders should stand back and let “nature take its course” when it comes to a polarized workforce. Ignoring or delaying a resolution is a threat to corporate culture and team cohesiveness, and can have a direct impact on productivity, morale, retention, and safety.
Effective leaders recognize that it’s their responsibility to create an atmosphere of mutual understanding and respect, acknowledging the differences but uniting around the shared goal of a strong and stable workplace that benefits all employees. Below are some “warning signs” that may indicate toxic polarization at a workplace:
- Escalating verbal disagreements or confrontations between employees, even on matters seemingly unrelated to a particular social issue.
- Isolation or avoidance of specific groups/individual employees, increasing levels of mistrust and suspicion.
- Development of rigid groups or “cliques” among employees, in subtle or overt opposition to each other (an “us vs. them” mentality).
- Complex issues are reduced to simplistic stereotypes (“They always want xxxx! They’re just lazy, ungrateful, ignorant, controlling, etc.”).
- Competing signs, symbols, or graffiti appearing at workstations, breakrooms, bathrooms, etc.
- Use of corporate email or social media platforms to promote or espouse positions/viewpoints, contrary to established policy.
- Frequent employee complaints to HR or requests for position/location transfers due to a hostile work environment.
Listen to your “gut.” If you suspect growing tension between employees, you are probably right. Differences of opinion are normal, healthy, and unavoidable, but if left unaddressed can escalate and cause major conflict to the detriment of all involved, including your business. If you are unsure how to engage in a constructive dialogue, R3 Continuum can help. Through expert consultation, policy reviews, and facilitated discussions lead by specially trained professionals, we have assisted hundreds of workgroups. Call us.
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