Kingston Smith

Brexit – be wary of it affecting relationships in the workplace

The recent referendum has divided the nation. In such an uncertain time, how can you avoid it dividing your workforce?

The outcome has sparked many debates within groups of friends, between family members, on social media; conversations have gotten heated, becoming personal and with both sides feeling very strongly about their views, it is no wonder that tensions are running high.

What happens if these discussions spill over into the workplace? Throughout the campaign and leading up to the referendum, people have been quick to divulge which way they will be voting. That’s great for hypothetical discussions, but the votes have now been counted  and we now find ourselves in a position where, with only two options available to you, odds are you’ll end up speaking to someone with the opposite opinion before the week is out. Based on the fact it was such a narrow majority, you now face the situation where half of your workforce may be feeling aggrieved while the other half may well be ‘ungraciously content’.

Political debates are always risky within the workplace and are only set to be made worse by the passion controversy surrounding this referendum. Unfortunately, until the initial buzz calms down, we are likely to witness some conflict so it’s best to manage it from the start.

To limit the risk of working relationships becoming affected, both internally and externally, clear communication around what will and won’t be tolerated is your first step.

A message from the CEO or MD reassuring all employees of job security can be very effective. Advise your staff that your organisation will be embracing the changes positively and together as a team.

Managing this externally should be fairly simple. Make it clear to your employees that discussions surrounding the referendum should not be had with any clients, customers or suppliers of the company. It would also be beneficial to have a company line ready for your employees to use should a client or supplier raise the subject themselves.

It is however, more difficult to manage these conversations internally. One suggestion would be to advise employees that whilst you understand Brexit is a very hot topic, employees are to be aware that everyone is entitled to their own opinion and this should be respected. If you have particular concerns, you may also want to state that any employee found to be condemning another for their views may be subject to disciplinary action.

Unfortunately, it has become apparent that we do have to address the small section of people that may use Brexit to target colleagues from outside of the UK. You should continue to have a robust approach to any instance of racist or bullying behaviour and remind your staff that this will be treated as gross misconduct and dealt with through your disciplinary procedures.