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Do’s and don’ts of talking politics at work

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If presidential elections tend to bring out our basest emotions about politics, then somehow the 2016 presidential campaign has managed to tap into something downright primeval.

Americans of all political persuasions have some pretty strong opinions about Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, and people aren’t shying away from sharing their feelings. Even at work, where cooler heads should prevail, it’s gotten difficult to avoid hearing someone talking about this election and not feel the need to throw your two cents in.

Accountemps, a Robert Half company, recently surveyed more than 1,000 U.S. workers about talking politics at work and discovered something interesting. The Accountemps survey shows more than half of workers believe political discussions in the office could get heated and offend others. That said, 22% of workers still got into what they’d call heated discussions with coworkers over this year’s election.

Given that this is an election year, many voters are divided about various issues and, as a result, the temptation to discuss politics at work is stronger, explains Jim Jeffers, metro market manager of Robert Half in Madison.

“In the past, political discussions might have been more common at home, when most people got their news from the nightly television news,” says Jeffers. “In today’s information age employees can get the latest political news online, sparking conversations at work as news develops.”

While 56% of survey respondents believe workplace political discussions can get too heated and become offensive, men were more likely than women to think political conversations in the office actually help keep workers informed (52% to 34%).

Younger workers are also more likely to engage in an office political discussion, according to the Accountemps survey. Thirty-one percent of workers age 18–34 have gotten into a heated debate because of political differences, and this group is also most likely to be less productive due to discussing politics, notes Jeffers.

Accountemps didn’t specifically ask why men or younger workers are more open to political discussions in the workplace, Jeffers explains.

“It may be that [younger workers] are more open to sharing their views publicly in general, particularly in today’s age of social media. Regardless, it’s important to know your audience when considering political discourse at work. You never know if your comments may offend someone, creating potential rifts and hindering collaboration with colleagues.”

That last point is important because 43% of all workers surveyed say a major reason their workplace productivity has suffered from office political discussions is due to their workplace relationships becoming strained.

Lunch or happy hour could be considered more appropriate times to have political discussions since you’re typically with workplace friends, Jeffers says, but the same rules still apply about being cautious and not getting too heated — which may be easier said than done.

“Even if the environment is casual the discussion could get heated, so it’s best to tread lightly.”

(Continued)

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