April Behavioral Health Column

VPPPA has partnered with the experts at MindWise Innovations to present a monthly article addressing issues and questions that members might be hesitant to ask about. These columns will address your concerns about mental health, substance abuse, brain injuries, family issues, and more. 

By: Lisa Desai, MindWise Innovations ​

Managing Current Events-Related Stress in the Workplace

The last year has presented us with large scale events which have had a dramatic impact on the well-being of all ages in the United States. Opinions and feelings about big topics such as the global pandemic, ongoing national unrest regarding racism, and different thoughts on vaccines and politics are strong and can easily enter the workplace. Differences of opinions might be shared openly, or alternatively show up through tense or uncomfortable nonverbal communication.  For example, politics seem to be impacting work life more prominently in recent years. A survey by research firm Gartner found that 31% of those who talk politics at work say these conversations are “stressful and/or frustrating.” 

So how do you manage these differences and maintain team cohesion in the workplace? While not easy, these tips might help navigate these challenges:

1. Intentionality involves being mindful of what we plan to say or do. Before starting the workday – particularly if you are feeling impacted by an event – decide what you think is okay to discuss at work and what topics you will avoid. Make an intention and try to stick with it. As Roger Brooks from Facing History and Ourselves points out, being remote requires that we must be more intentional about our conversations. We have to seek out dialogue with co-workers and in doing so, can be thoughtful about what we want to discuss and what we do not.  

2. Boundaries between work and personal life are important, especially during politically or socially charged times. Remind yourself that work is separate from your personal life. With remote and hybrid work, it’s easy for the lines to become blurred and it is vital to think about the language, views, and disclosures that are appropriate for one’s personal interactions, but might not be for workplace discussions.

3. Recognition of one’s own views and how they are impacting our behaviors is key to self-awareness. Take responsibility for your actions and words; identifying ways in which you might be contributing to a tense or uncomfortable environment helps to decrease chances for conflict on the job. Also recognize that you do not know how other’s view certain topics or issues which could unwittingly lead to offensive or conflict-inducing situations; don’t make assumptions. 

4. Showing respect during all interactions and conversations at work are especially important now. A recent survey from the Society for Human Resource Management found that 42% of U.S. employees say they have personally experienced, and 44% say they have witnessed, political disagreements at work. A majority (56%) said that discussing politics at work has become more common in the past four years. Respect goes beyond the golden rule: treat others as they want to be treated, not simply as you want to be treated. Respect includes listening to hear what your co-worker is saying; if you begin to feel disconnected and that your emotions are clouding your ability to listen, it may be time to politely bow out of the conversation. Respectfully agreeing to disagree can go a long way. 

5. Inclusiveness is reminding oneself – as a leader or coworker – that engagement of all team members enhances cohesion and productivity. People have differing levels of comfort talking about political views, and private matters, at work. Notice who is and isn’t participating in conversation and if it’s clear that a topic is contributing to exclusion, it’s better to move on. As Gartner found in their poll of 500 employees, 36% of employees said they have avoided talking to, or working with, a coworker because of their political views, and this likely impacts collaboration among teams.  

​6. Focus on the work. When all else fails in juggling your political views with job responsibilities, remember where you are and what tasks are in front of you. During times of stress and preoccupation, focusing on one work-related task at a time can help with productivity and provide a sense of accomplishment. If it’s hard to re-focus on work, take a few minutes to talk with your manager or co-worker – not about politics, but rather about a workplace topic so that your focus shifts.