Nov 3, 2020 - Economy & Business

Navigating the post-election workplace

Illustration of a coffee mug covered in voter stickers
Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

In the next 78 days, between the election and the inauguration, politics will become increasingly difficult to avoid at work. Many companies aren't shying away from that.

The big picture: This election cycle marks a turning point for Corporate America. Instead of focusing solely on profits and growth, companies are wading into social and political debates — betting that the future of the workplace is headed that way.

"It’s the first thing you’re taught in business," says Asher Raphael, CEO of Power Home Remodeling, a Pennsylvania-based home improvement company. "No politics and no religion. But that rule is outdated."

What's happening: This year, more than 1,700 companies gave employees paid time off to go to polls. For many of those firms, it was a first.

  • Will Bondurant, CFO at San Francisco-based Castlight Health, which is providing Election Day paid time off, says that his company has attempted to encourage voting by creating a Slack thread for people to post voting selfies, share resources with information on how to vote, and invite staff to share personal stories on the importance of voting.
  • "We think this is the right thing to do, but we hope it has a positive business impact in terms of hiring and retaining talent," Jonathan Neman, CEO of Sweetgreen, tells me about his company's decision to give time off on Election Day.

But it's far from over. Now companies will have to navigate weeks — or even months — of a chaotic political climate that will undoubtedly bleed into the workplace.

  • The signs are already there. 44% of HR professionals observed intensified workplace political volatility — defined as increased tension, hostility or arguments between employees over politics — in 2020, compared with just 26% in 2016, per a recent survey from the Society for Human Resource Management.
    • But, but, but: A whopping 80% say their organizations have notset guidelines regarding how to talk about politics at work. "That's a problem," SHRM president Johnny C. Taylor, Jr. says.
  • And the pressure is on. Nearly three-quarters of workers expect their CEOs to have a response plan if the election's outcome is unclear or contested, according to a new Edelman study.

That shouldn't scare CEOs who've been paying attention to office culture, says Raphael.

  • "The workplace is actually the perfect place to have these conversations," he says. "Part of the problem in the larger political environment is that the humanity is lost."
  • "But if you haven’t developed a culture in which people have a deep sense of belonging and care for one another, it’s hard to have a productive discussion about politics."

The bottom line: Says Kesi Lumumba, a public relations professional in D.C., "I think there's a catharsis in talking about everything that's going on, regardless of political affiliation."

Go deeper: CNN"s Kathryn Vasel has a useful read on how to talk politics at work without getting into trouble.

Go deeper