Beware Political Discussions At Work

With the presidential election fast approaching and the polar platforms of the two contenders making headlines, the debate over each candidate’s strengths and weaknesses is undoubtedly spilling over into the nation’s workplaces.

As the line blurs between employees’ work and personal lives, coworkers often become members of one’s social circle and therefore a sounding board for one’s political views and opinions.  However, while political talk in the office should not be discouraged, it is important that certain ground rules be followed, according to global outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

“Passions and tensions are high, especially with the general election so close, and with the Republican and Democratic candidates so different,” said John A. Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. “Political discussion is the hallmark of a free society, but when the debate enters the workplace, it can create some significant problems Continue reading


Workplace Trends Of The Future

In honor of the 60th Annual SHRM conference, this year being held in our very own Chicago, IL, we are introducing a weekly segment entitled “Workplace Trends of the Future!” Cue blaring trumpets, triumphant violins!

Each Wednesday for as long as we have interesting new trends, we will post a prediction for the workplace based on the vigorous research and analysis of Challenger experts. We’ll discuss things like hiring policies, the global workforce, the future of health benefits, wellness programs and office design.

Check back each week for an interesting prediction and feel free to share your own experiences in the workplace.

Sleeping At The Office: Yea or Nay?

It’s summer. It’s hot. After those big lunch meetings, sitting outside with potential clients, having a burger or a heavy salad, the natural thing to do is nod off, right?

Maya Dollarhide of LifeWire wrote a piece featured on CNN Money about just this phenomenon found here. More workers are napping at work, and more companies aren’t finding anything wrong with it. What could this do to the workplace?

As employees work increasingly long hours and take their jobs home with them, nap time, once reserved for pre-schoolers and kindergarteners, is making an appearance in the workplace, and receiving mixed reactions. Some say it increases focus, productivity and company loyalty, while others say the opposite – it lowers productivity and ignores the real issue that people aren’t getting enough sleep at night.

Some companies are using nap-areas or sleep stations as recruitment tools, giving employees 20 minutes to doze as a perk. Google Inc. supplies workers with an area to nod off including a specially designed chair to keep out light. Other companies mentioned in Dollarhide’s story offer meditation rooms with inviting couches and lounge chairs on which to rest those lids.

Ultimately, companies cite the need to keep their employees healthy as a reason for such measures. Employers say nap times increase productivity and keep workers focused and alert when they aren’t sleeping. And most employees like the fact that they can leave their desks and take a quick snooze after lunch to refresh for the rest of the workday.

And it makes sense to offer naps. According to a study conducted by health insurer MBF last year in Australia, over 50 percent of workers said they don’t sleep well at night and cited work as the cause. If work is causing employees to lose sleep, it seems natural that companies would offer some sort of restitution – no pun intended.

Despite the seeming benefits of office nap times, as with other company benefits, this could be abused. Instead of a 20-30 minute power-nap, employees could take 2-hour siestas during work hours. This could be overlooked if your employees work 12-hour days, but what if they don’t? And what if those power naps do nothing more than leave workers groggy and wanting more sleep time? That couldn’t possibly be good for productivity.

All in all, employers must look at their individual culture to decide if nap times are right for them. In some situations, it could be a perfect remedy for tired workers.

During Election Season, Political Discussion Ensues

On the eve of the democratic presidential primaries in Indiana and North Carolina, office workers nationwide may be engaged in serious political discussions. While a hallmark of our democracy, these discussions can lead to at best, tensions in the office and at worst, political shouting matches.

As Americans spend more time at the office and the line blurs between employees’ work and personal lives, coworkers often become members of one’s social circle and therefore a sounding board for one’s political views and opinions. However, while political talk in the office should not be discouraged, it is important that certain ground rules be followed.

Passions and tensions are high and the general election is still seven months away. The fight for the Democratic nomination is getting more rancorous and proponents of each candidate are getting more vocal. Most companies do not have a formal policy about political discussions in the workplace and most do not need one. However, it is something that department heads and managers should be mindful of in an election year.

For the most part, employees have to monitor their own behavior. One of the keys to political discussions at the office is to keep them brief and light. The last thing you want is for conversation to become confrontational. Supervisors should also be particularly careful about engaging subordinates in political debate.

In today’s political arena, where political and religious views are often closely entwined, supervisors should avoid putting themselves in a position that could leave them vulnerable to discrimination lawsuits.

Here are a few tips when engaging in political discussions:

Keep it civil. Do not let friendly banter deteriorate into a name-calling shouting match.

Know your colleague. Career-wise, it is probably safer to converse with those who share your views. If unsure about a colleague’s views, then avoid political conversations or carefully probe for his or her views.

Do not campaign. Give-and-take conversations are acceptable, but campaigning can be off-putting. If someone expresses discomfort with political discussions, respect his or her wishes.

Stick to politics. While politics are increasingly entwined with religion, consider that aspect of the debate off limits.

Do not evaluate based on politics. You may not agree with a coworker’s political views, but, if you are a supervisor, do not let that influence your assessment of that person’s work and/or value to the company.

Layoffs at Rumor Mill

Gossiping in the workplace. A common occurrence, surely. However, employers seem to be at a loss as to how to handle it – or if they should handle it at all.

The April 21 Chicago Tribune RedEye edition ran a story, Boss to Employees: Gossip and You’re Fired, about a Chicago-area public relations firm that completely banned gossiping in the workplace. Their CEO felt gossiping hurt morale and lowered productivity, so much so, that three employees have already been fired since the ban was implemented. Does banning office gossip really work, and are the costs worth it?

Probably not. Although gossip can potentially hurt productivity and morale – or at least intimidate those involved in the rumors, policing it can be a daunting task, something that may not produce the desired results.

Firstly, the time and energy expended trying to police personal behaviors may end up costing the company just that: time and energy. HR managers could be working on more meaningful actions – perhaps to bolster sales, create a stronger web presence for the company or identify networking strategies – instead of trying to weed out gossipy workers.

Secondly, although there are no HR issues in firing an employee for gossiping, or anything for that matter, due to at-will employment in today’s workplace, these types of policies cost the company not only potentially strong workers, but also the time, energy and money to hire replacements. In the example above, three employees were axed for gossipy behavior. Not only have you lost three employees, but you also have to cover the cost of hiring and training three more.

Finally, your employees and co-workers are smart…hopefully, since they work with you. If they want to gossip about another worker, the boss or the temp’s incriminating MySpace page, they will find a way to do so, regardless of company policy. Think coded messages or taps on the floor. Even if it’s not that extreme, once you try to force workers what to talk about in the office, you may be hurting morale already.

The best course may be to promote morale through positive actions, instead of taking things away. The following is a list of ways to keep the office happy:

Socialize with your coworkers. The latest Employee Engagement Index from the Gallup Management Journal found that employees who work with passion and drive innovation are most likely to engage in close personal relationships at work. This does not necessarily mean you need to go out every night with your fellow employees. However, engaging in non-work-related activities and conversation will help establish mutual respect and common bonds.

Check your problems at the door. No one likes to be belittled or yelled at in front of others. Although it may seem like common sense, a 2001 study commissioned by Integra Realty Resources of New York found that 42 percent of respondents witnessed yelling and other forms of verbal abuse in the workplace. If you have a problem with a fellow worker, take time to cool down and then have a constructive conversation with the individual in a private office or conference room. If the conflict has elevated to a point where civil conversation seems impossible, then seek a manager or human resources representative to mediate the interaction.

Keep an open flow of communication. A major cause of resentment may come from workers who feel they are not being heard. Communication is critical to any inter-office relationship, so it is important to establish an open-door policy for workers to air their grievances. Allow employees to submit written suggestions and call a follow-up meeting to discuss any issues.

Bring a piece of home to the office. Maybe you are having trouble motivating yourself to finish that last report in your windowless, white cubical. Since you spend most of your time at the workplace, it is important to feel comfortable. A recent study found that a depersonalized workplace environment was a leading cause of workplace anger. Bring in some posters for your office walls. Put some flowers on your desk or in a common area. Your co-workers will thank you for it.

Learn to deal with people you do not like. Unfortunately, you will meet people within your organization with whom you do not get along. Since you most likely cannot just ignore these people, you will have to minimize any tension that may occur. Keep your interactions brief, to the point and completely professional. If the problem persists, talk to your supervisor to see if you can rearrange your work to avoid this person entirely.

Take a vacation. Sometimes the best remedy for finding happiness at work is to step away from it.’s 2007 Vacation Deprivation Survey found that Americans get 14 paid vacation days a year but only use 11. This is up from 2006 when American’s failed to use 4 vacation days. Although, workers do not always take those trips they have been planning, a few days away from the office could substantially decrease stress levels.

It’s the little things that count. Cleaning up after yourself in the break room, making the next pot of coffee when you take the last cup, and replacing the container on the water cooler when you notice it is empty will go a long way toward creating a civil workplace.