The Break Room: It’s Election Season, so Here’s 3 Unorthodox Ways to Cut the Tension

You may not be able to run from politics in the office, but here’s how to hide.

photo of text saying elections 2020
This satirical column is part of our series The Break Room. Each column takes a humorous look at an aspect of the workplace. All the characters and scenes are fictional.

Well, the 2020 election is just around the corner. Tensions are rising around the country and it’s only natural for them to bleed into the workplace, especially as we draw closer to November.

As a boss or manager, you want to encourage your employees to participate in civic engagement, support the causes they are passionate about, and, of course, exercise their right to vote. But when political arguments break out among your employees or team members, it can lead to distraction, inefficiency, and tension between coworkers.

If you’re in the restaurant industry, for instance, you’ve got more than enough stress built into your nightly operations already — especially these days — without political debates breaking out among your staff. That’s how orders get mixed up and a “Ridin’ for Biden” button once ended up in a customer’s soup.

Or say you run a landscaping or paint crew. You might find the lunch breaks looking more and more like a pundits’ roundtable, extending later and later into the afternoon. And that one customer was none too pleased when she came home to find her hedges shaped into the incumbent’s signature hairstyle.

Even if you manage a relatively quiet office environment, you may find discord in your ranks. For instance, you might become suspicious about that novella-length email your Customer Experience Manager has been crafting for the last hour. And not that you would ever intentionally read your employees’ emails over their shoulders, but when you glimpse the phrase, “Chomsky writes in ‘Hegemony or Survival’ …”, you can be fairly certain her communication is not entirely about customer experience.

If you don’t want the political passions of your team taking too big a bite out of productivity this fall, here are a few practical tactics you can put to use.

1. TREATS!

Everyone loves ice cream sandwiches. Just be ready to bring at least 4 boxes in per day from now until November.

Nothing melts a tense moment like … ice cream sandwiches! The next time someone brings up the election, just start winging these around at people. Next thing you know you’ll be reminiscing about summer little league and trout fishing. Everyone loves ice cream sandwiches. Just be ready to bring at least 4 boxes in per day from now until November, and factor in a decline in productivity for the daily 2 pm sugar crash that’s likely to ensue.

2. INCREASINGLY ERRATIC BEHAVIOR

Sadly, the treat thing is only a stopgap solution. Eventually your team will come to expect the treats and will blithely carry on pontificating all while shoving increasingly melty ice cream sandwiches down their gullets — making the entire experience even more unpleasant than it was in the first place!

Now the burden must shift to your shoulders to shut down the debate before it spirals out of control. You can do this by preemptively spiraling out of control yourself whether in person or over Zoom. At the first hint of tension, try squawking like a bird or crooning an old-timey ballad. This should help redirect the conversation away from politics and toward your bizarre behavior. You could fall out of your chair and swing your feet up comically into the frame of your webcam. Or duck out of frame only to come back wearing a blonde Hulk Hogan wig.

Eventually, you should achieve a kind of pavlovian response where your team will subconsciously come to associate political talk with your increasingly unpleasant fits, and will hopefully begin to avoid the topic altogether.

Now the burden must shift to your shoulders to shut down the debate before it spirals out of control. You can do this by preemptively spiraling out of control yourself whether in person or over Zoom.

3. POLICIES

Consider banning the colors red or blue and, just to be safe, white until after the election. Even something as innocent as a red T-shirt or blue jeans can bring subconscious political tensions bubbling to the surface.

Now, you may rightly be asking, does that mean my team can’t wear blue jeans for the entire fall? The answer is yes. BUT! There are always corduroys … remember corduroys?

Even if your workplace is still entirely remote, blue jeans should be avoided on the off chance that you might need to stand up during a Zoom meeting. Also, no political paraphernalia in your Zoom background. This includes items like campaign posters, slogans, stuffed or ceramic animals belonging to the equine or pachyderm families, or life-size cardboard cutouts of the candidates.

If all else fails, you may need to resort to the most draconian measure of all: team building exercises. Bust out a new one every time someone brings up politics and watch how quickly they fall into line. As they moan and complain about doing another “virtual trust fall” you can sit back and say, “Maybe you should have thought of that before bringing up the Hatch Act, Carl.”

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