When “Open-Up Business” Activism Creates Tension at Work



Q:  I manage a division with 40 employees.  About half are happy working remotely, getting paid their usual, in no hurry to return. The other half however, are public-facing employees who can’t work remotely.  They’re being paid their base salary, but not their commissions.  In other words, they need us to open in order to make ends meet. 

Some of those employees have become outspoken advocates for the “open-up business”  movement and even pressure co-workers to call politicians and signing petitions. This “activism” is creating tension across the board among staff who don’t yet feel safe coming back.  How do I handle this?

A:  With a lot of care.

This is a very emotional time for everyone. We are all living in a different world now.

Even those who are lucky and still have their salary, have to worry about how long that will last, worry about elderly parents getting infected, or relatives and friends who’ve lost their income.

Those who are less lucky, who were furloughed or laid off or who -like half of your workforce- are getting paid but much less than before, are now facing a new level of financial need and anxiety that borders on existential threat.

So it’s understandable when otherwise well-mannered staff engage in inappropriate “activism” of something they believe will save the day.

So, what can you do? 

You have to address this directly with the employees who are pressuring others to their cause. Try to identify the two or three people whose opinions seem to be the most influential in the group. You could set up a conference call or better yet a zoom meeting with them.

It’s important that you don’t come across as judgmental, don’t engage or opine on the merits of their cause. Because this is not about whether you agree or disagree with either side of the argument.

This is about how -– regardless of how righteous we think a social or political cause may be – it is, in fact, inappropriate to use company resources, such as a virtual staff meeting, or your staff’s mailing list– to rally social/political support for one thing or another.

Explain why this is causing tension with other employees who have opposing views, and why it’s important to back off.

Emphasize that now more than ever it’s important to maintain teamwork so that you can all support each other during this trying time.

Originally published on the HR Box blog.

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