5 healthcare leaders on handling political talk at work

Political conversations can pop up in any work environment. In healthcare, organizations choose to handle these conversations in a variety of ways.

Becker's Hospital Review asked healthcare leaders to share how they handle these discussions at work. Below are their responses.

Jeanne Armentrout
Chief Administrative Officer of Carilion Clinic (Roanoke, Va.)

"Today's workplace is very dynamic, and people bring with them their own attitudes, beliefs and passions. At Carilion, we address any differences of opinion by reflecting back to our core values: compassion, commitment, curiosity, courage and community. We stress collaboration, respect and inclusivity. These values guide us when we face conversations that naturally draw people to one side or another, like politics.

"We certainly have our share of politics directly related to healthcare as well. For us, our strategy is to remain apolitical and focus on the goals or outcomes that would benefit our patients, our business and our community. Focusing on the solution versus debating the problem is a technique that works best for me."

Dallis Howard-Crow
Chief Human Resources Officer of UCHealth (Aurora, Colo.)

"UCHealth values a diverse and inclusive workforce that is always respectful of co-workers, patients and visitors. We appreciate differing opinions, including differing political views, and we encourage staff to ensure those conversations are kind and respectful at all times."

Orest Holubec

Senior Vice President and Chief Communication Officer of Providence St. Joseph Health (Renton, Wash.)

"Civil discourse is important and seems in short supply these days at the office, coffee shops and even some of our kitchen tables. When engaging in political discussion at work, it's important to remind ourselves and our caregivers [employees] that everything we do in the workplace — including participating in sometimes tough political discussions — must be aligned with our values. Our value of dignity calls on us to respect one another, even when we disagree. The best thing we can do is lead by example. 

"As a nonprofit healthcare organization, Providence St. Joseph Health can't support specific candidates or parties, but we do have a strong point of view on social justice issues aligned with our Catholic identity and heritage. We believe health is a human right, and we've long advocated for important healthcare and social programs with a special focus on those who are poor and vulnerable. This includes protecting and expanding Medicaid, ensuring a just immigration policy, stewarding the earth's resources and providing access to high-quality and safe care. 

"We have a diverse workforce and recognize that our stances align with some of our caregivers but not others. We're conscious about articulating how our public positions align with our mission, our values and vision of health for a better world. We're also fortunate that we attract people who are committed to making a difference.

"Finally, we make it easy for caregivers to communicate with their state and federal policy makers through a simple online tool. For example, we engaged them recently during the attempted ACA repeal. When advocating for the preservation of Medicaid, more than 7,500 of our caregivers and board members sent nearly 9,000 letters to 22 members of Congress. We're proud that our caregivers are committed to helping others, particularly those who are the most vulnerable, but it's important to note that their actions are voluntary, and they never feel pressured to participate publicly."

Stacey Lawson
Director of Human Resources at Miami Valley Hospital (Dayton, Ohio)

"I think we all have likely heard that we should not talk religion or politics in the office, which is easy enough until you hit election year and then it becomes top of mind. It becomes the watercooler conversation. It becomes the backdrop of a lot of people's dialogue within the workplace.

"Leaders should ensure they're representing the voice of all employees. As such, I discourage the conversation in the workplace because seemingly innocuous conversations can easily morph into something that becomes more heated. It can be politically loaded, and it can cause division.

"As leaders, I believe it's important we are careful with our words. If we don't measure our words, our words will measure us, and they're measured on the basis of party line, unfortunately. So, people will draw conclusions about who we are, the decisions we make, and our perspective and views by virtue of some of the beliefs that we espouse. For that reason, I believe that it's important that we avoid those conversations, that we demonstrate an openness to hearing differing perspectives, particularly when they are different than ours."

Mike Yost
Vice President of Marketing, Outreach and Experience at Indiana University Health (Indianapolis)

"I try to listen more than talk to understand where the conversation is going. As long as the discussion is lighthearted, I will engage in the discussion but continue to listen more than speak. If the conversion moves toward a debate, I'll do what I can to change the topic and move on." 


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