HR Management & Compliance

Political Divide in the US Reflected in the Workplace

According to a recent study, 64% say that discussions surrounding politics in the workplace have gotten more heated than 5-10 years ago.

Randstad US today released results of a survey uncovering U.S. employees’ feelings and experiences with political discussions in the workplace, and how an employer’s approach to political issues can influence employee engagement and retention. The data shows that while almost half (49%) of respondents enjoy talking politics with colleagues because it helps them understand other viewpoints, 53% admit they limit social interactions with co-workers who have differing political beliefs.

“Our study shows the topic of politics itself is extremely divisive in the workplace, reflecting our country’s current polarized political climate,” said Audra Jenkins, chief diversity and inclusion officer, Randstad North America. “It seems there’s no escaping politics, even on supposedly neutral ground, and unfortunately this can contribute to feelings of alienation as well as deteriorating relationships in the workplace. Managers must pay close attention to workplace dynamics within their teams and be sure they’re promoting cultures that are inclusive and tolerant of a range of different political perspectives. Without a strategy in place, organizations run the risk of impacting their diversity and inclusion initiatives by creating another barrier that limits the diversity of thought.”

Some Employees see the Benefits of Discussing Politics at Work, but the Risk of Negative Consequences Is High

  • Sixty-five percent of employees say they’re comfortable discussing politics with colleagues, and over a third (38%) say they’ve changed their opinions on political issues because of discussions they’ve had with colleagues.
  • Over half (55%) have witnessed heated political discussions or arguments at work, and over a third (38%) have been involved in them.
  • Seventy-two percent feel stressed or anxious when heated arguments occur, and 44% say such arguments impact their productivity.

Differences in Political Viewpoints, Whether Expressed in Person or Online, Can Be Alienating and Damage Workplace Camaraderie

  • Fifty percent say their thoughts and feelings about colleagues have changed after discovering their political beliefs.
  • Forty-three percent have at least one colleague whose political views do not align with their own and have felt excluded at work as a result.
  • Thirty-eight percent of employees believe they have experienced negative bias at work because of their political beliefs.
  • Sixty percent are careful of posting things reflecting their political views on social media networks because they’re afraid of colleagues seeing them.
  • Almost half (46%) have unfollowed colleagues on social media because of political posts.
  • Forty-seven percent feel the need to hide their political beliefs in order to fit in with senior leaders.

Political Viewpoints Can Drive Employees to Quit their Jobs or Determine the Employment Opportunities They Seek

  • Thirty-five percent would leave their jobs if their direct managers held very different political views than their own and were publicly vocal about them.
  • Fifty-eight percent of respondents would not interview at companies that publicly promoted political beliefs they did not support.
  • Thirty-nine percent would take pay cuts to move to companies that promoted causes aligned with their political values.

Workers Are Divided on Whether Employers Should Take a Stance on Political Issues

  • Forty-six percent of employees say it’s important for them to work for employers that take stands on controversial political issues.
  • Over half (56%) say it’s important that the charitable and/or corporate social responsibility causes their companies to reflect their own political values.
  • Fifty-three percent want their employers to take public stands on LGBTQIA rights.
  • Fifty-four percent say they want their employers to take public stands on immigration policy.
  • Fifty-three percent want their employers to take public stands on gun control policy.

Politics Matter More to Millennials than other Generations

  • Fifty-five percent of 25–34 year-olds believe they’ve experienced negative bias at work because of their political beliefs, versus just 23% of 50–64 year-olds.
  • Sixty-nine percent of millennials say their thoughts and feelings about colleagues have changed after they’ve found out their political beliefs, compared to 50% of all workers.
  • Sixty-seven percent of millennials say they’d quit their jobs over political differences with their bosses, versus just 15% of 50–64 year-olds.

“Today, the line between business and politics is becoming increasingly blurred as more and more companies take public stands on controversial issues, which simply wasn’t as common even a few years ago,” said Jenkins. “Our data shows employees are split on how politically engaged they want their companies to be — but many are hoping their employers will become more politically engaged especially millennials. As the millennial generation rises in the ranks in the workplace, I expect we’ll see a shift in how companies manage their charitable and civic actions.”

Employers should foster an open dialogue and put guidelines governing political expression in place. For more information, check out finding the right approach to political expression at work.

Survey Methodology

Research findings are based on an OmniPulse survey fielded by national polling firm Research Now on behalf of Randstad US. The survey was fielded from August 13–17, 2018. It included 807 respondents over the age of 18 and a nationally representative sample balanced on age, gender and region.