CXO

How to manage post-inauguration employee conflict

Political discussions are bound to come up around the office these days. Here are a few ways to keep tensions from rising.

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Image: iStock/AntonioGuillem

In September, 2016, Monmouth University conducted a telephone poll of 802 registered U.S. voters and reported that 70% of respondents said that the 2016 presidential campaign had brought out the worst in people, with 7% reporting that they had lost a friendship over the election.

There is no doubt that the recent presidential campaign was contentious and divisive. This is also a fact that shouldn't be lost on project managers, who now could face strains in team member relationships as they start new projects in 2017.

If you think that some feelings between your team members could be fractured, how do you ensure that your project work environments are healthy and productive?

Assume a neutral, work-oriented position

Some years ago during another presidential election, I was a senior vice president at a financial institution. Those of us on the executive management team were aware that our CEO was an active participant in the local chapter of one of the major political parties. At one point, the CEO asked us all to an offsite luncheon and directly asked us who we were going to vote for. As a collective group, we respectfully declined to participate in the conversation.

The CEO was disappointed, but as his management team, we succeeded in keeping our feelings at work neutral, although we individually knew where each other stood. Our takeaway from the incident, regardless of which candidate we favored, was that it was inappropriate to introduce politics or attempt to use your position to influence others at work. This is also lesson number one for project managers, if they hope to create neutral and comfortable working environments for their diverse staffs.

Never forget that as a team manager, you set the standard

If you let your staff know in no uncertain terms that there is a "zero tolerance" attitude toward disruptive behaviors like bullying, sniping and intimidating others, your team is more likely to stay focused on work and on healthy collaboration. The best way to do this is to clearly state your position in a staff meeting and to follow this up with constant reinforcement of a healthy and cooperative work environment. You can help facilitate the process by "walking around" and regularly interacting with your team members during the course of a day.

Revisit your company's social media policy with your team

If your company doesn't have a formal social media policy, encourage your CEO and your HR department to develop one. If you do have one, now is the time to take ten minutes out of a staff meeting to review it with your team. Common social media policies that a majority of companies have are that employees are free to say that they are affiliated with the company-but they must also say that their opinions are strictly their own. Some companies like Best Buy, directly state in their social media policies that "Dishonorable content such as racial, ethnic, sexual, religious, and physical disability slurs are not tolerated." Hewlett Packard, "reserves the right to edit or amend any misleading or inaccurate content depicted in blog posts." The company also reserves the right to delete blog posts violating the code of conduct.

SEE: Social Media Policy (Tech Pro Research)

Identify disruptive employees, and deal with them proactively

The best was to do this is in one-on-one conversations that give the employee the opportunity to amend a behavior pattern without being called out in a public setting.

In some cases, an employee might not even realize that he or she is causing disruption and disharmony. The reason for not knowing this can range from not reading an employee handbook on what is appropriate behavior at work, to being insensitive to the fact that certain actions or remarks might be hurtful to others. As a manager, it is your job to make the employee aware of the negative behavior, and of the corrective steps that you expect the employee to take. After the conversation has been held, it is also the job of the manager to follow up on the employee to ensure that the behavior modifications are made and that they do continue.

Monitor your team for personal anxieties

In 2015, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) conducted a workforce survey and found that nearly half (48%) of surveyed employees said that "feeling safe" affects their job satisfaction. This survey keyed primarily on whether employees felt that the company was providing a physically secure environment, but there are also personal safety concerns among employees that are emotionally based. Ensuring a safe and comfortable work environment is requisite to great project work — and it is the job of the project manager to ensure that a comfortable work environment exists for all. A great way to do this is to let employees know in no uncertain terms that certain types of behavior are expected on project teams at all times—and then to constantly monitor team interactions, noting any team members whose behaviors might be abusive, or whose body language could indicate fear. In these cases, managers need take action right away. This begins with one-on-one sessions with the employees involved.

Focus on the project

The best remedy of all for frayed feelings is a purposeful project with well defined goals and a strong mission. When projects contain these attributes,they can go a long way in keeping the team together, and in mending fences.

Also see:
Are ethical concerns and workplace abuse valid reasons for a PM to quit a project?
Three reasons not to ignore one-on-one meetings in IT
Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn: How should managers use social media? (ZDNet)
Employee political activity policy (Tech Pro Research)

About Mary Shacklett

Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President o...

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