Vote Against Talking Politics in the Workplace

By Robert Half October 25, 2018 at 1:45pm

More often than not, talking politics in the workplace doesn’t end with high-fives and “likes.” It’s far more likely to generate ill will and productivity problems.

Sure, you have a right to your own opinion, and free speech is protected by the First Amendment. But if you’re interviewing for a new job or working in an office, it’s not the same as debating political issues with neighbors or sharing your views about a politician’s tweet with like-minded friends online.

According to a survey by Robert Half, 22 percent of more than 1,000 workers polled said they’d gotten into a heated discussion with a coworker during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Fifteen percent of respondents even reported that their productivity had suffered as a result of talking politics at work.

These discussions can fray relationships with colleagues. In fact, a 2017 survey about work and well-being by the American Psychological Association found that 24 percent of workers avoid coworkers because of their political views.

Bottom line: Don’t mix work (or your job search) with button-pushing politics. Following are some tips on how to deal with political talk. First, we’ll address job seekers, then employees.

Advice for job seekers on all things political

If you’re looking for a job in today’s polarized climate, be mindful of politics even before your interview. Unless you’re applying for a job with a politician or an organization with a political affiliation, there’s no need to espouse your viewpoints on candidates, campaigns or current affairs. Consider this advice:

  1. Conduct a digital search of your name. Type your name into a search engine using quotation marks, such as “John Smith.” Scroll through at least the first three pages of results. If you find anything online that you wouldn’t want a hiring manager to see, including potentially controversial or off-putting political statements you’ve made, do your best to remove them.
  2. Consider going private. Do you ever use social media as a place to vent about political matters? You might consider locking down your accounts. With Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, you can set your profile to private, where only your approved friends can see your posts.
  3. Keep your resume and cover letter apolitical. A typo on a resume is a common red flag. Here’s another one: Providing too much personal information. Many jobs seekers make the mistake of oversharing. Employers don’t need to know about your marital status, religion, hobbies, pet peeves or your political persuasion. Don’t list political affiliations on your resume or share political viewpoints in your cover letter, unless it directly relates to a job you’ve held or the one you’re seeking.
  4. Maintain a politics-free zone during your interview. If you’re preparing for a job interview and planning to bring up current news stories as a good way to break the ice, don’t. Hot political issues in the news are a taboo subject best avoided. Even if you get the strong sense that you’re in line with the hiring manager’s political persuasions, never play political pundit.

Advice for employees regarding politics

Once you’re in the workplace, you might find political banter is commonplace. But there are downsides to joining in. The conversations can be emotionally charged and divisive. And they can hinder collaboration.

So, what are the best ways to manage political conversations at work? Here are four tips:

  1. Don’t debate or lecture on political topics. Obviously, the safest bet is to refrain from talking politics at all. But if you feel you must engage in some political chatter, because everyone in the room is doing it, try to approach it in a lighthearted manner. Limit yourself to general comments or try to change the subject. “That reminds me of an episode of ‘House of Cards,’” could help you move on to discussing favorite TV shows instead of real-life politics.
  2. Stand your ground. Don’t feel pressured into offering your views. You can always politely excuse yourself by saying with a smile, “Wow, I’m staying out of this one!” If a group discussion becomes confrontational, reiterate your preference to keep political chit-chat to a minimum while at the office. “Sorry, talking politics in the workplace just isn’t my thing. Let’s get back to work-related matters.”
  3. Stay focused on your work projects. Pay attention to what you need to accomplish. Don’t allow yourself to get sidetracked by others who are obsessed with monitoring the latest political news cycle. If a thorny issue irrelevant to the work at hand comes up in the lunch room or at the water cooler, take it as a cue to head back to your desk or put on headphones.
  4. Watch what’s said after work, too. Remember that what you say to colleagues outside of work may cause them to form opinions of you. Exercise the same judgment of treading lightly around current events if you want to keep happy hour “happy.” The same advice applies when exchanging email and text messages with coworkers.

What happens if you do talk about politics in the workplace and discover you’ve offended someone? The best etiquette is to apologize quickly and sincerely for any off-putting comments that made someone else uncomfortable.

Final word? If you find yourself heading down the path to talking politics in the workplace, make a sharp detour and save your energy.

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