To debate or not to debate, that is the question. Now more than ever we feel free to have conversations that would make our grandmothers clutch their pearls. Money, religion, sex — nothing is off limits anymore. But politics, that’s a tricky one. It’s no secret that our country is more divided than ever before when it comes to politics. Tensions are high on both ends of the spectrum and it’s not uncommon to hear of relationships falling apart over political differences.
When so many people struggle to talk about politics with their loved ones, is there a world in which we can have these conversations at work? In a 2016 study, 54 percent of workers reported avoiding political discussions with colleagues. As you’d expect, the number of people discussing politics at work increased. 73 percent of people have discussed politics with their colleagues since the 2016 election, and 37 percent have discussed politics with their boss or manager.
It’s clear it’s becoming more common to discuss politics at work, so it that a bad thing or a good thing?
To keep things positive, let’s look at the pros of having political conversations at work first. With a little respect and understanding, these conversations can happen at work. Treading lightly is a bit of a no-brainer. If a conversation gets too heated, it might be best to agree to disagree and walk away.
It’s becoming harder to ignore politics at work because so many of our conversations about inclusivity revolve around them. All workplaces should strive to make employees of every background and belief system feel welcome and valued. Silence doesn’t lead to progress. Discussing politics at work may be necessary to build workplaces we can all thrive in.
When creating consumer-facing products or marketing campaigns, it can be difficult to please everyone. That’s life. When you start conversations at work about political issues, you should expect to hear differing opinions. You don’t have to always agree, but listening to diverse perspectives will help you understand more audiences than the one you fit into.
I’ve worked at a variety of businesses and politics affected them all. My first job out of college was in the marketing department of a financial firm. If a politician made a decision that caused major fluctuations in the stock market, that affected my work. It was my job to help our customer base understand what was happening politically and economically.
At my second job, I managed social media accounts that catered to hundreds of thousands of women who were interested in women’s career issues. There were times when I couldn’t ignore political events. Our audience wanted our perspective. Having conversations with colleagues about politics can help you all prep for any upcoming political events or crises that your business needs to address.
There are valid reasons not discussing politics at work is a classic rule and there’s evidence to back this tradition up.
No surprise here, political conversations can be offensive. Political beliefs are strongly tied to your moral beliefs. It makes sense that offense comes easily. When two people both feel they believe the “right” thing, a discussion can turn into an argument.
If your political beliefs are in the minority at the office, you may feel excluded from certain groups. It is illegal in certain scenarios and states to discriminate against employees for their political beliefs or political activities (outside of work). But not all employees in all states have protection. Not only can discussing politics at work make people feel uncomfortable, but there can be career altering ramifications. With 20 percent of workers reporting they avoid certain coworkers due to their political beliefs (the number rises to 28 percent for employees aged 18-34), persecution due to discussing politics at the office is a real concern.
Let’s say there is a perfect office where everyone can speak about politics in a completely open-minded, inclusive, and respectful way. Sounds pretty great, right? Depends who you ask. Even if someone feels free to talk about politics, they may not want to at work. Someone who would prefer not to discuss politics at the office may find their work environment to be very tense. 17 percent of workers reported that political conversations at work stress them out. Again, the number rose for younger workers, 28 percent of which reported feelings of stress at work due to political conversations.
1 in 4 employees feel negatively affected by political talk at the office. That’s a number we shouldn’t ignore. Does this mean political conversations should never happen at work? No, but it serves as a reminder of why the business and employees needs should be considered. Good work, office wise and further, can come from having difficult conversations about politics.
Every office is different. I’ve worked in environments where these conversations were productive and others where they were not. Both environments had their merits. At the end of the day, the goal should be to create a respectful and productive working environment for all employees. Hopefully, that’s one thing we can all agree on.