As impeachment proceedings continue in Washington, employees openly share their thoughts.
- In a survey of more than 1,000 American workers, 43% of men and 24% of women said they would need to take a mental health day if President Donald Trump is impeached.
- 67% of men and 46% of women discuss politics in the workplace, though 56% and 40% respectively worry that dissenting political views could hurt their performance reviews.
- While Trump is among the top five most uncomfortable topics of discussion at work, racism, religion, sex and abortion are also high on the list.
The idea of discussing politics at work has long been seen as troublesome at best and gauche at worst. After all, why risk drawing divisions between you and your co-workers? While that may have been the thought process for decades, rising political divides in Washington have brought partisan concerns to the fore at work, with a new study suggesting workers are becoming more open with their political views.
Earlier this week, Reflektive released the results of a survey of more than 1,000 U.S. workers that examined the topics men and women found the most difficult to discuss at work. What researchers found was that as Americans, employees are taking advantage of the fact that free speech is so deeply ingrained into the fabric of our national identity – despite that many fear retaliation from their peers and supervisors if they do.
"It's concerning that half of the American workforce is worried that disagreeing with their managers about politics might have repercussions for their career," said Reflektive CEO Greg Brown. "As an employer, you want your employees to have diversity of thought. Your job isn't to suppress this, but you do need HR, leadership, and management to set the boundaries, communicate them to employees, and lead by example."
According to the survey, 26% of respondents said they felt they couldn't discuss politics with their colleagues, since the conversation would likely devolve into bickering. Similarly, 38% said they felt they were unequipped to resolve a conflict about politics or any other controversial topic at work.
The Trump effect
Ever since his election in 2016, President Donald Trump has been an incredibly divisive figure among conservatives and liberals. His brash tone, policies and matter-of-fact nature of discussing sensitive topics both energize his base and infuriate his opponents.
With the nation's capital currently embroiled in an ongoing impeachment process brought on by the House of Representatives, American workers are already bracing themselves. With the stakes even higher regarding impeachment, 43% of men and 24% of women said they expect to take a mental health day if Trump is removed from office. Meanwhile, 49% of men and 42% of women said they would take a day off to celebrate his ousting. As the impeachment hearings continue, researchers found that 30% of men and 15% of women said the proceedings could potentially have an impact on their performance.
To put that into context, researchers found that 32% of workers said they needed a mental health day after Trump was elected in 2016. Regardless of what happens in the 2020 election, 26% of men and 12% of women said it will be hard to go to work the day after, regardless of who wins. If their candidate loses, however, 58% of men and 49% of women said it would affect their work. [Read related article: Casual Discrimination in American Workplaces]
The president is so divisive among those polled that he was the least enjoyable topic for men to discuss at 23%. The economy (30%), current U.S. events (29%) and American politics in general (23%) scored higher.
Conversations at work about controversial topics
Casual conversation among co-workers is unavoidable, so it's only natural that some controversial topics will come up. While men were more likely to engage in potentially combative discussions, researchers found that 31% of women reported not wanting to discuss divisive subjects at work.
One of the major reasons people stay away from contentious topics is the fear that those discussions will reflect poorly on them at work. According to researchers, 56% of men and 40% of women fear that sharing their political views with their co-workers or supervisors could hurt their next performance review.
Part of the reason for that fear is that employees don't think they have the ability to address divisions with their colleagues in an effective manner. Approximately 30% said they would likely try to have a one-on-one discussion with their boss or co-worker, while 23% said they would reach out to an objective person in human resources. [Read related article: Workplace Conflicts? 4 Tips to Improve Communication]
The most helpful tool in handling division among co-workers, according to 23% of respondents, was a "defined process to handle conflict." Some respondents, however, said an open bar (18%) or access to legal marijuana (13%) would smooth things over.
Will sharing your political views affect your job?
Through the study, researchers learned that most workers (52%) feel they know their co-workers' political leanings. With that kind of knowledge, or perceived knowledge, 41% said they felt most of their colleagues shared their political views, while 26% said they felt the opposite was true. Additionally, 21% said they felt their co-workers' political stance affected their job performance.
Years after the Citizens United decision allowed corporations to take part in the electoral process, researchers learned that men and women feel differently about that topic as well. According to the data, 51% of men think it's all right for a company to support political parties or projects, while 70% of women said they disagreed. [Read related article: Consumers 'Expect' Brands to Be Political]
Regardless of a person's political views, Rachel Ernst, vice president of employee success at Reflektive, said employees should be careful when discussing personal things like political ideologies.
"Politics don't make for ideal workplace conversation, but it's natural for employees to want to share, discuss and process their feelings about current events," she said. "The important thing is to make sure employees understand the parameters around these conversations so they aren't causing disruption or making colleagues feel psychologically unsafe."