Why the office is no place to get political

A new survey shows one in five workers are negatively affected by those kind of water cooler conversations...

Why the office is no place to get political

Picture by: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire/PA Images

The age-old maxim that you should never discuss politics – or religion – at the dinner table might be in need of a workplace addendum.

With leadership uncertainty at home, the shock election of Donald Trump in the US, the shock Brexit decision across the Irish Sea and Theresa May's, yes, shock announcement of a British snap general election yesterday, there has been much in global politics to pore over for the past year alone.

The majority of workers, however, are avoiding the topic altogether and possibly with good reason. 

A new survey from Peninsula Ireland has showed that 65% of people steer clear of political chatter at work. 

One in five employees claimed they were negatively affected by political talk.

Meanwhile, 32% of the 1,000 respondents said that workplace hostility has increased because of political discussions in the office. 

'Political views are a personal matter'

Alan Price, senior director at the employment law consultancy, said of the findings:

"The workplace brings people together from different backgrounds that might not usually interact with each other. When you add politics to the mix – a deeply personal and sometimes emotional topic for many, there is potential for tension, friction and problems for both employees and the business.

"While you can't prevent political discussions at work, it is important to remind employees to be respectful. Political views are a personal matter. Ensure that employees are sincere in their interest for another person’s views, and have them truly consider why another person may feel the way they do on a certain topic.

"By taking a civilised approach, employees can respectfully share opinions with each other without getting confrontational. Practicing these discussions may even help them in other work conversations and difficult situations in the future."

A similarly-sized US study released by the American Psychological Association last September found that one in four US employees had been negatively affected by political talk at work during the country's election season, with younger workers in particular experiencing diminished productivity and more stress.

More than one in four younger employees reported feeling stressed out because of political discussions at work, and more than twice as many men as women said political talk is making them less productive.

Price had some advice for what employers can do to tackle the issue:

"It is important to remember your position as you will play a vital role in setting the tone for what is acceptable in the workplace as employees often follow your lead. If you wouldn’t share personal life details with someone, politics probably shouldn’t be a topic you discuss either.

"Another reason to not discuss politics in the office is because these discussions can open businesses up to potential risk. If an employee has a heated political discussion with a manager, then is dismissed due to an unrelated issue, the employee has the ability to feel as if their differing political views were the ultimate cause of their dismissal."