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Survey Asks Americans if it’s OK to Talk Politics at the Office

The results offer an interesting insight into when it may and may not be a good idea to discuss politics at work

Published on August 20, 2020

Office Meeting

Whichever side of the pond you're currently working on, politics can be a sensitive topic. Now, a new US survey has highlighted just how varied workers feelings are towards discussing politics in the office.

The study, conducted by recruitment agency Robert Half, found that in the US, 22% of professionals surveyed said it is appropriate to discuss politics at work, compared to 26% who said it wasn't. 53% said it depended on the situation.

The survey, which focused on 28 US cities, also found differences in responses between States. For example, professionals in San Francisco were more open to discussing politics, with 63% ready to talk about the subject with colleagues. In New York, 34% agreed it was ok to discuss politics, followed by 33% in Los Angeles.

On the other side, professionals in Cincinatti, Phoenix, Cleveland and Philadelphia were more likely to oppose political discussions with co-workers.

The study also looked at the age of professionals who were surveyed, finding that younger respondents, aged 25-40 (32%) were more open to political conversations than those aged 41 to 54 (13%) and those aged 55 and over (9%).

Responding to the results, Paul McDonald, senior executive director of Robert Half, said "Politics can be an emotionally charged and polarizing topic ... 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 ... Some political talk is inevitable, but workers need to be extra sensitive to and respectful of others' perspectives. Even with the best intentions, miscommunication can occur and lead to unnecessary conflict."

Interestingly, a similar survey conducted in the UK by recruitment firm Reed found different attitudes in Britain on discussing politics in the workplace, with 60% of UK based respondents saying it was "fine" to talk politics in the office. However, the UK survey also found that 77% of UK based respondents said they would never ask a colleague for their voting intentions. On the other hand, a narrow majority of Brits said they would be happy discuss their own political preferences, with 52% saying they'd be happy to discuss their political views with colleagues, compared to 48% who said they wouldn't.

As part of their research, Robert Half has also provided three useful tips for navigating political discussions at work:

1. Tread lightly. If you choose to participate in political conversations, keep it light and constructive. Should the discussion become confrontational, move on to another subject.
2. Decline politely. Don't feel pressured into sharing your political views. It's OK to bow out of a conversation and let others know you prefer not to chime in.
3. Speak up. If a colleague says or does something that makes you uncomfortable, pull the person aside and explain what's bothering you. For more serious matters, consult your manager or human resources.

With the US Presidential Elections on the horizon, and political discussions likely to be on the tips of more people's tongues, it's useful to understand the acceptable social parameters for discussing politics at work, and these surveys indicate that it may be a good idea to wait until you're confident it's a safe topic to introduce.

More information on Robert Half's research can be found at www.roberthalf.com, whilst the results of the Reed study in the UK are available at www.reed.co.uk/recruiter-advice/is-it-ok-to-talk-about-politics-in-the-workplace

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