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Do politics and work mix? It depends

Should people discuss politics in the workplace or keep their opinions to themselves? The answer depends on who you are talking to, according to a
survey released Wednesday by the American Psychological Association.

More than a quarter of American workers said they are negatively affected by political talk in the workplace. Many said it
makes them feel stressed and less productive. And yet the same survey also found about a quarter of
workers forged stronger relationships with their colleagues
through political discussions.

“We were curious if political talk was spilling over into
people’s work, and if was causing any problems – more conflicts with coworkers,
more hostility, more stress,” said David Ballard, a psychology doctor and assistant executive director for organizational excellence at the APA. “We know
that work is already one of the leading causes of stress. Could the talk of the
election be adding an extra layer?”

The survey was conducted by Harris Poll, a membership-based polling and market research agency, for the APA.

The online survey of 927 adults employed full- or part-time
in the United States found that younger workers, between 18 and 34, were most likely to feel stressed
due to political talk. 

Men were were twice as likely as women to
discuss politics with their coworkers. They were also twice as likely to say
that the political talk made them less productive.

Nearly half of the workers surveyed said people are more
likely to discuss politics in the workplace this election compared to
past seasons. 

But Pam Erskine, a director of program services for a non-profit in
Maine, said she felt people were talking about politics less this election.

Her experience was echoed by Angela Lindauer, who works in
community outreach for an arts organization in Virginia. “I only talk
about it to one or two individuals,” she said. “It’s fairly taboo, especially in
that I am fairly conservative and working in the art community means I am
surrounded by people who are not, so it is probably a self-imposed taboo.”

Jane Dennery, who worked in customer care for a technology
company in Pennsylvania, observed the opposite trend in her workplace. “I
definitely noticed the political talk ramping up in my last job, which I believe
had a lot to do with the coming election. I wouldn’t say more heated political
debate, but definitely more frequent political debate and discussions.

“Even when we disagree on major issues, it
never gets mean or spiteful. There’s always been an unspoken ground rule of
respect first.”

Some workers have forged stronger relationships with their
colleagues through political discussion. About 24 percent said they feel more
connected to coworkers and 23 percent say they view their coworkers more
positively.

“It was encouraging to see that a majority of working
Americans said people at work are generally respectful toward each other, even
if they have different political views,” Ballard said.

“It was also somewhat surprising to find
no major differences in the way these political discussions are affecting
people based on political party or ideology.

“Our survey
revealed that regardless of party or views, people are more alike than they are
different when it comes to how political talk at work is affecting them this
election season.”

Workers who identified as Democrat or Republican fell within
a few percentage points of each other across nearly every measure.

Ballard said managers and supervisors should be aware
of how political talk in the workplace might affect the team.

“While the number of people affected may seem small, 27
percent is still a significant portion of the workforce. And even just one
employee on a team who is more stressed, or getting into arguments, or avoiding
coworkers because of political differences can create a ripple effect that
hurts the whole team,” he said. “With about two months left until election
day, it’s possible that talk could get more heated or intense.”

He recommends having a clear policy that limits political
activities in the workplace, and communicating that policy to workers. He
acknowledged that enforcement can be challenging and that banning all political
talk is unrealistic.

“The best approach is to promote a workplace culture that
embraces respect, trust and civility,” Ballard said. “When people can work
together toward common goals in a psychologically healthy environment, where
they feel supported by the organization and each other, then employees and the
organization can thrive, regardless of political differences.”

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