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Talking Politics at the Office: All in Good Fun — or Asking for a Fight?

Discussing politics at the officeSecrets may not be any fun… but are they a necessary precaution when it comes to talking politics in the office?

We debated whether politics belonged in the workplace during the 2008 election, and while  a lot has happened in the last four years, one thing hasn’t changed: Many workers still don’t feel comfortable regaling tales about their favorite political candidate in the office lunch room. In a new CareerBuilder survey about politics in the workplace conducted by Harris Interactive©, 66 percent of the more than 4,100 workers surveyed said they choose not to share their political affiliation at work, and 28 percent of workers said they not only decline to dish, but even feel like they need to keep their affiliation secret around the office. For those who dare to disclose, it seems men are more likely than women to share their political beliefs at work, with 37 percent of men sharing their affiliation, compared to only 31 percent of women.

Whether or not they’re publicly discussing their intentions, voting numbers look to be strong: 82 percent of respondents said they plan to vote in the 2012 presidential election.

Keeping their I Heart Politics t-shirts at home

If you poke around most U.S. workplaces, you’re probably not going to turn up much in the way of election-related bumper stickers, belt buckles, buttons, or party hats: A whopping 98 percent of workers don’t have U.S. presidential campaign items or decorations on display in their office.

Workers who keep their political affiliations a secret at work have their reasons. Sixty-eight percent keep things private because they don’t believe politics should be discussed in the office unless it affects their job, and 13 percent say it’s because they believe the majority of their co-workers support the opposing party.

Gen Y is staying silent

Although we’ve discussed before how Gen Y workers are generally open and want to make their voices heard, it turns out these employees new to the workforce and voting are less likely than their older co-workers to share their political affiliations around the office. Twenty-one percent of employees between 18 and 24 share their political opinions at work, compared to 29 percent of workers 25-34 years old and 36 percent of workers ages 35 and older.

Avoiding office arguments

More than half (52 percent) of workers believe that the president of the United States has an actual effect on the unemployment rate. When political conversations turn to controversial topics like this, things can get heated quickly.

As Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder, points out, “It is easy for a conversation about politics in the office to become an argument about politics. For the most part, people want to avoid controversy in the office as much as possible. Avoiding discussions of politics may be one way they can do that.”

Polite political discourse

If you are going to partake in office politics, it’s important to play by the rules. Haefner offers the following tips for workers who find themselves in a conversation about politics with their co-workers — and for bosses who believe this may be good advice to pass on to their employees:

  1. Find things you agree on. Discussing facts and values you agree upon can help ensure the conversation remains respectful.
  2. Deal only with the facts. Exaggerating and spinning facts are common ways to start an argument.
  3. Pay attention to their tone and body language. If your coworker becomes quiet or overly defensive, it is best to back off and steer the conversation back to respect and agreement.

If your workplace does decide that politics at the office are A-OK, here are some additional “politics at work talking points” to help ensure you’re playing fair.

Do you support political banter at work, or do you see it as a problem?

Amy McDonnell

About Amy McDonnell

Originally hailing from Ohio, Amy is the creative services manager on the content services team and has been with both CareerBuilder and the city of Chicago for nearly a decade. She writes on a range of recruitment topics on The Hiring Site, striving to bring a dose of clarity and humor to sometimes complicated issues around employee attraction, engagement and retention. When she's not working, Amy spends as much time as possible reading, pretending to be a chef, writing short stories, eating Nutella out of the jar, waiting for CTA buses and trains, going to see her favorite bands live, and spending time with people who inspire and challenge her.
3 comments
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Blake Lindsey
Blake Lindsey

I have always felt that the only "person" who really needs to know such views is the ballot box. Discussions on controversial topics paint targets on ourselves even if it is subconciously. Particularly in sales, distributing views can repel clients and they wear down on the gears of office relations. Employees should be working on the same goal, why wear down the machine by bringing up topics which have no bearing on work? (unless of course everyone agrees politically, but that is rare). Nearly everyone agrees that the political climate is overheated, there is no need to make it worse by taking the heat to the office. Alexander Hamilton once said to his son (the day before he was shot and killed in a duel by Aaron Burr) "discretion, if not a splendid virtue, is at the very least a useful one".

Careerleaf
Careerleaf

Thank you, Amy! While many individuals find it easy to refrain from speaking about politics in the office, many take to social media to express their interests. I find that this can also cause a problem when many co-workers and managers are connected via social media. Creating a political conversation online, even in a professional nature, is certain to reveal your affiliation to your co-workers.

Amy_at_CB
Amy_at_CB

 @Careerleaf Thanks for reading and for your reply -- great point about political discourse or opining on social media! Leaders need to make their social media expectations clear to employees when it comes to these types of topics (especially if accounts are at all work-related). Co-workers should also consider limiting who sees political commentary or other controversial work topics on sites like Facebook, particularly during a sensitive time like elections. The good thing about social media is the ability to unfollow people who may be making you uncomfortable with their public display of political banter -- which isn't always so easy to get away from in an office setting. Either way, people need to be careful about what they post or say and what kind of effect it might have on others around them in a professional setting.

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