Ready, or Willing, to Talk Politics at Work?

It’s the day after the presidential debate, and with an estimated 100 million viewers, chances are good someone at work will want to talk about it. The question, however, is should you talk about the debate, or politics in general, at work? While a majority of workers (53 percent) feel it depends on the situation, according to a recent Robert Half survey, employers must follow certain guidelines when communicating their political views to employees.

Although most workers see political discussions as dependent on the situation, 22 percent said having such discussions with coworkers was appropriate — but 26 percent said it’s never OK. Unfortunately, the survey didn’t break down what factors or situations made politics more appropriate to discuss amongst colleagues.

“Politics can be an emotionally charged and polarizing topic,” said Paul McDonald, senior executive director of Robert Half. “While non-work-related conversations can help colleagues connect — particularly when working remotely — heated political discussions can have a harmful effect on professional relationships and productivity.”

Even during the pandemic — when many people are working remotely and primarily communicating through text messages, virtual meetings and other online collaboration tools — workers should be mindful of when to discuss potentially controversial topics with their colleagues.  

Interestingly, California residents may find it more acceptable to talk about politics than the rest of the nation. In San Francisco, 63 percent of workers said it’s OK to talk about politics at work. Los Angeles was the third highest city for pro-workplace political talk at 33 percent (New York was second with 34 percent).

The survey also found that younger workers, those 25 to 40 years old, are also more likely to find it acceptable (32 percent) compared to older workers, those 55 years old or older (9 percent).

When discussing politics, it’s best to keep political conversations light and constructive — moving on to another subject if they become confrontational.  

“Some political talk is inevitable, but workers need to be extra sensitive to and respectful of others’ perspectives,” McDonald adds. “Even with the best intentions, miscommunication can occur and lead to unnecessary conflict.”

While no clear guidelines exist to assist employees with discussing politics in the workplace, employers should follow certain rules on political communications to employees.

While employers are within their rights to communicate with employees about issues, regulations, legislation or ballot measures that will impact the workplace, jobs, the economy and the employees themselves, they may not take such actions as paycheck stuffers, coercion, or rewarding or punishing employees (or threatening to do so) for their political activities or beliefs.

CalChamber prepared a brochure to help employers. Informing your employees and stockholders about the impact of proposed state legislation, regulations and ballot measures is within your rights as a business owner — you just need to do it the right way.

Katie Culliton, Editor, CalChamber

CalChamber members can read more about Voting Leave in the HR Library. Not a member? See how CalChamber can help you.

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