5 Rules for Discussing Politics in the Office

Posted September 18, 2012 by

John Challenger of Challenger, Gray & ChristmasWith the presidential election fast approaching and the polar platforms of the two contenders making headlines, the debate over each candidate’s strengths and weaknesses is undoubtedly spilling over into the nation’s workplaces.

As the line blurs between employees’ work and personal lives, coworkers often become members of one’s social circle and therefore a sounding board for one’s political views and opinions.  However, while political talk in the office should not be discouraged, it is important that certain ground rules be followed, according to global outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

“Passions and tensions are high, especially with the general election so close, and with the Republican and Democratic candidates so different,” said John A. Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. “Political discussion is the hallmark of a free society, but when the debate enters the workplace, it can create some significant problems.

“Political debates in the workplace not only can present a possible disruption of productivity, but they can create a tension-filled work environment.  In extreme cases, these debates can even become hostile.  For co-workers who discover that they disagree on a hot-button issue like defense spending, women’s health, and health care plans, which have been thoroughly debated in the media, it can be difficult to set aside these differences when it comes time to coordinate on a project,” said Challenger.

“The situation can be particularly uncomfortable if the political rift is between a worker and his or her supervisor.  It is important to remain well-liked by your supervisor, so sharing political views with the boss can be a risky venture,” said Challenger.

According to a 2012 CareerBuilder Survey, 36 percent of workers discuss politics openly, and 43 percent expect to discuss politics this election year. A Vault.com survey from the last Presidential election found that 30 percent of respondents said that a coworker has tried to influence their choice in an election.

This election is likely to have few independent voters, since both candidates represent very differing views on the future of the country.  A September Washington Post/ABC poll asking if the election were held today, who would be elected, had Obama with 49 percent of the vote, and Romney at 48 percent. Eighteen percent are reportedly undecided or could change their minds.

“Most companies do not have a formal policy about political discussions in the workplace.  However, especially with workplace bullying and incivility becoming an issue in the workplace, department heads and managers should be mindful of political discussions in an election year and tapped into the office environment” said Challenger.

“Over 30 percent of workers have witnessed workplace bullying in the last year according to the Workplace Bullying Institute. No doubt some of those instances included political debate.

“For the most part, employees have to monitor their own behavior.  One of the keys to political discussions at the office is to keep them brief and light.  The last thing you want is for conversation to become confrontational.

“Supervisors should also be particularly careful about engaging subordinates in political debate.  In today’s political arena, where political and religious views are often closely entwined, supervisors should avoid putting themselves in a position that could leave them vulnerable to discrimination lawsuits,” said Challenger.

Challenger, Gray & Christmas issued the following suggestions for keeping political discussions from negatively affecting one’s career:


  1. Keep it civil: Do not let friendly banter deteriorate into a name-calling shouting match.
  2. Know your colleague: Career-wise, it is probably safer to converse with those who share your views.  If unsure about a colleague’s views, then avoid political conversations or carefully probe for his or her views.
  3. Do not campaign: Give-and-take conversations are acceptable, but campaigning can be off-putting.  If someone expresses discomfort with political discussions, respect his or her wishes.
  4. If you must talk politics, stick to politics: While politics are increasingly entwined with religion, consider that aspect of the debate off limits.
  5. Do not evaluate based on politics: You may not agree with a coworker’s political views, but, if you are a supervisor, do not let that influence your assessment of that person’s work and/or value to the company.
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