Is Now the Time to Talk Politics at Work?

Talking about politics in the office is stressing people out and hurting their productivity. Many discussions are erupting into full-blown arguments, and millennials are particularly likely to witness political escalations in the workplace.

Nearly a third of American workers say they are less productive at work after the American presidential election which landed Donald J. Trump in office. This according to a survey of 500 American workers conducted by Wakefield Research and workplace consultants Betterworks.

According to the Betterworks study:

  • A substantial portion of the workforce (87%) is highly immersed in the political news flow, with the average user reading 14 political posts per workday.
  • One-fifth of workers read more than 20 posts per day, which the study equates to 2 hours worth of reading.
  • Those who read more than 10 posts per day were also the ones more likely to report feeling less productive at work.
  • 10 % of respondents said that political discussions at work led to stress, feeling cynical, difficulty finishing work, lower work quality, and diminished productivity.
  • Oftentimes, confrontations about political views have started out as benign discussions and escalate into full-blown arguments.
  • Nearly half (49%) of the people surveyed in the Betterworks study have witnessed a political conversation actually turn into an argument at work.
  • Confrontations over political views may start out as benign discussions before escalating into outright arguments (Photo by Lionel Bonaventure/Getty Images).

    There is also a generational aspect to be mindful of in this issue.

  • Millennials were significantly more likely (63% of millennials) to report having witnessed a conversation escalate into an outright argument.
  • Millennials were also more likely to have attended a rally since the election, with 34% saying that they had participated in a rally or march, as opposed to 20% of the broader workforce.   
  • This confirms other research that was conducted before the 2016 election, such as a survey by the American Psychological Association (APA) titled Politics in the Workplace: 2016 Election Season.

    According to the APA Study:

  • Men were four times more likely than women to report having an argument with a coworker over politics.
  • 1 in 4 U.S. employees was being negatively affected by political talk at work during the pre-election season.
  • This included having difficulty getting work done, producing lower-quality work, and being less productive overall.
  • For those negatively affected, they also expressed a greater sense of isolation from their colleagues, more negative views about colleagues, as well as an increase in workplace hostility. 
  • Younger workers in particular experienced diminished productivity and more stress.
  • There were no differences between adherents of political parties in terms of reporting an argument.
  • On a deeper level, all this serves as an interesting and underexplored way in which toxic politics can hurt businesses - by exasperating the workforce. For managers, this presents a particular dilemma because of the need to encourage a workforce that is both motivated and focused. Immediately after the election, some managers held debriefing sessions or sent emails to the entire staff stressing the need for respecting colleagues.

    Betterworks provides a few tips for managers on how to navigate such circumstances:

  • Managers and employees should "unite over work" by finding common ground in their overlapping work goals.
  • Managers are advised not to argue with employees, because arguments can "lead to a breach in trust in the manager-employee relationship."
  • Managers should not "get nitpicky about how much time employees spend checking their social networks"
  • Managers should recognize that true work-life integration means that employees will bring their personal life, including sharing their political beliefs, to the workplace.
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