Politics is a sensitive subject in any setting. Today, disagreements seem even more polarizing and divisive, even at work. How much political speech is too much at work? Can expressing a political opinion hurt your career?
Indeed recently surveyed 2,000 employees of U.S. businesses to gain insight into attitudes toward politics in the workplace. We found that, while the U.S. has robust free speech traditions in the public sphere, disagreements remain over whether political speech should be protected or censored in the private sector.
Who’s silencing whom?
Over half of employees (54%) are comfortable with the current amount of political discussion at work. Yet, 20 percent of employees say politics has no place in the workplace. On the flip side, nearly a quarter of employees (23%) believe political groups are unfairly silenced – with over half (60%) citing peer censorship. Only 10 percent say there is too much censorship.
Based on this, peer pressure seems to have a stronger effect than perceived pressure from corporate leadership. Among those who believe censorship is taking place, two thirds (66%) feel conservative groups are the target, while a third (34%) believe liberal groups are.
Whether conservative or liberal, the two camps express a similar level of comfort when it comes to discussing politics at work. About half of both liberals (48%) and conservatives (46%) say they feel “mostly comfortable” sharing political views at work.
Do political views affect career growth?
The majority (54%) don’t think expressing political beliefs has any effect – positive or negative – on career paths or growth within their company. Although those who believe their political views could hold them back are in the minority (25%), this perception may encourage people to choose companies they align with politically, potentially leading to even more polarization.
Here are three tips for employers to effectively handle politics at work:
- Set policies regarding what is and is not acceptable in the workplace. Many states have laws making it illegal to discriminate against employees based on political beliefs.
- Foster an environment where all employees feel comfortable being themselves while respecting and accommodating differences of opinion.
- Promote a diversity of views – even political ones. It is the recipe for corporate success.
If we can set aside differences and solve problems together in our places of work, we all benefit from better environments in which to work together.