Survey shows political tension making its way into the office

Managers should make effort to keep debate professional

Posted July 19, 2016

As the race for the White House sees the Republican and Democratic candidates heading to their national conventions, political tension is making its way from the campaign trail into the office. According to a new CareerBuilder survey, 3 in 10 managers (30 percent) and nearly 1 in 5 employees (17 percent) have argued with a coworker over a particular candidate this election season.

More than 3,200 workers and more than 1,900 managers in the private sector across industries participated in the nationwide survey, conducted online by Harris Poll on behalf of CareerBuilder from May 11 to June 7, 2016.

“With passions running high this political season, individuals run the risk of saying things or behaving in ways that can be considered unprofessional or discriminatory toward each other,” said Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer for CareerBuilder. “The tip to navigating the rough waters during election season is to make sure your conversations are fair and respectful. If you feel like political chit-chat is getting heated or confrontational, it’s time to walk away.”

Bringing the debates to the office

Management is more likely than employees to argue about candidates, with managers in information technology (47 percent) taking the lead, followed by those in manufacturing (37 percent).

  • IT: 47 percent
  • Manufacturing: 37 percent
  • Professional and business services: 30 percent
  • Financial services: 29 percent
  • Health care: 24 percent
  • Retail: 23 percent

Does political correctness help or hurt the workplace?

Workers are often urged to remain politically correct, but according to most, their workplaces are censoring them too much. Half of workers (50 percent) believe the workplace has become too politically correct in America, and a third of employees (33 percent) are afraid to voice certain opinions because they feel they may not be considered politically correct.

More than half of workers (55 percent) describe their workplace or management (59 percent) as politically correct.

And although more than a fifth of workers (22 percent) say political correctness has made their business stronger, more than a third (34 percent) say it has hindered business, making people tiptoe around issues and afraid to speak their minds instead of addressing the issues head on.

Tips to keep the peace this political season

While most workers choose to keep political debates outside of the workplace, those who like a little healthy debate should keep it at that – healthy. To avoid letting political talk turn sour, Haefner says managers should:

  • Recognize there’s a thin line between freedom of expression and a potential source of conflict. Consider providing respect and dignity behavioral training to all employees and emphasize tolerance for different ideas, beliefs, and needs.
  • Ensure your harassment policies and harassment complaint system are posted and that employees are trained in the process. Similarly, make sure employees are aware of any guidelines that prohibit bringing campaign materials into the office.
  • Create a culture of open dialogue and mutual respect, but if conversations do turn heated, encourage employees to walk away.

Survey methodology
The nationwide survey was conducted online within the U.S. by Harris Poll on behalf of CareerBuilder among 1,902 managers ages 18 and over (employed full-time, not self-employed, non-government) and 3,244 employees ages 18 and over (employed full-time, not self-employed, non-government) between May 11 and June 7, 2016 (percentages for some questions are based on a subset, based on their responses to certain questions). With pure probability samples of 1,902 and 3,244, one could say with a 95 percent probability that the overall results have sampling errors of +/- 2.25 and +/- 1.72 percentage points, respectively. Sampling error for data from sub-samples is higher and varies.


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