If you think the political discussions this election season between presidential challenger Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama took a rancorous turn, wait until you hear some of the conversations around the office water cooler. Two out of five employees have witnessed a workplace political discussion turn into a personal attack, a new survey found.
An overwhelming 78.1 percent of workers claim that political discussions in the office are detrimental to professional relationships and cause tension among co-workers, according to a survey of 295 workers conducted by Fierce, a leadership development and training company. And more than a quarter (26.6 percent) claim political conversations temporarily harm or even permanently damage work relationships.
These discussions can quickly get personal, the survey found, with 39.8 percent saying they had witnessed a political discussion turn into a personal attack at least once. Those conversations also raise the specter of favoritism. More than a quarter (29 percent) of employees feels management favors workers who share the same political views.
Despite the risk of tension in the workplace, workers do not want bosses to interfere. More than four out of five (80.4 percent) do not want employers to forbid political discussion at work.
"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. "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."
Management should clarify that political conversations should focus on issues, not individuals, Bock said. And if there is someone specific who is creating tensions, discuss the matter with that individual in a private one-on-one setting.