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30 Oct, 2012

Political Discussions in Workplace Cause Co-worker Tension: Survey


SEATTLE–(BUSINESS WIRE)- October 25, 2012 – An overwhelming 78.1 percent of workers who participated in a new survey conducted by Fierce, Inc., leadership development and training consultants, claim that political discussions in the office are detrimental to professional relationships, causing tension among coworkers.

Of those respondents, 26.6 percent claim political conversations temporarily harm or even permanently damage work relationships. The survey consists of responses from executives and employees in multiple fields, including finance, healthcare, retail, manufacturing, education, and defense.

Despite the risk of tension in the workplace, 80.4 percent of respondents do not want employers to forbid political discussions at the office. The Fierce survey reveals that the risks of political discussions at work include:

  • 39.8 percent of employees have witnessed a political discussion turn into a personal attack at least once.
  • 29 percent of workers feel management favors employees who share the same political views.
  • 54 percent said that political discussions are not healthy and do not improve communication.
  • 13.7 percent say that some coworkers feel excluded from political discussions.

“Although political discussions at work may cause discomfort and tension, management should never outlaw specific topics of conversation,” said Halley Bock, CEO and president of Fierce, Inc. “Employees will inevitably discuss politics, whether it is allowed or not, so forward-thinking organizations should set guidelines for how to approach the subject of politics and what is acceptable behavior.”

Rather than discouraging political conversations or trying to limit the amount of time spent discussing politics, management should take the opportunity to set clear expectations on how to interact regarding political conversations. Here are a few suggestions on how to establish ground rules:

  • Clarify that political conversations should focus on an issue, rather than an individual, to prevent personal attacks.
  • Encourage employees to come to political discussions with open minds, ready to learn, and prepared to respect competing viewpoints.
  • If there is someone specific who is causing tension, call out the behavior in a one-to-one setting, asking to hear the employee’s issues. Then, explore how the situation could be handled differently in a way that reflects the company’s core values.

When survey respondents were asked to rank topics of conversations from least to most appropriate for the workplace, political views rated in the middle of six choices, revealing that it is a rather neutral subject. Sex and relationships ranked as least appropriate, and office gossip as the most appropriate.