Employees want to talk about politics at work, study finds—but it’s a ‘double-edged sword’ – CNBC

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on new efforts to cancel student loan debt at the White House on Oct. 4, 2023.

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With the 2024 presidential election cycle picking up and the continuing crisis in the Middle East, political conversations are dominating Americans’ newsfeeds and social media, and spreading into the workplace as well.

According to a recent online survey conducted in October by Glassdoor, 61% of U.S. employees say they have discussed politics at work with colleagues sometime in the past 12 months. In the past year, 8% of online discussions in Company Bowls, Glassdoor’s online conversation feed for employees, have mentioned Joe Biden or Donald Trump and more than 21% have been about the ongoing conflict in Gaza and Israel.

Men (67%) are more likely than women (54%) to talk politics with co-workers, and younger generations are more likely to engage in political conversations than their older counterparts. Overall, men ages 35 and up and women ages 18-34 appear to be the most likely to talk about politics with their colleagues.

“I think for a long time it was considered taboo to talk about politics in the workplace, but these conversations have always happened to some degree either in lunchrooms or at bars and happy hours and are now happening in a lot of other places as well with the changing world of work,” Glassdoor’s chief economist Aaron Terrazas tells CNBC Make It.

“Younger generations in particular expect these conversations to happen in the workplace and they expect leadership to be vocal on issues that matter to them.”

Overall, 64% of workers said they feel supported when their company takes a big stance on political issues they care about. With Gen Z and Millennial respondents that number jumped to 70% and 71%, respectively. When looking just at Gen Z and Millennial women, the percentage rose even higher to 81%, compared to around 60% of Gen Z and Millennial men. 

But political statements come with risks, Terrazza says. Worker populations are diverse and a stance that supports some might ultimately alienate others. Around 36% of survey respondents said they would not apply to an open position if the company leadership supported a political candidate they did not agree with and around 31% said they would even consider leaving their current position. For Gen Z employees, these numbers rose to 49% and 44%, respectively.

One Glassdoor user characterized political statements as a “double-edged sword.” 

“My company took a position and not one I agree with, which for me is way worse than not taking one at all because now it forces me to support that position by working for them if I choose to remain at my job,” the anonymous executive director wrote on the platform. 

However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that company leaders should avoid political talk all together. Terrazas says it is important for executives to keep a pulse on how employees are viewing political events before making any company-wide statements on controversial events.

Terrazas says that the increasing presence of politics at work is part of a broader shift toward democratization of the workplace. Instead of employees having to support whatever company leadership believes, he thinks employee input should be incorporated into company statements that are made.

“Particularly as we move into next year, it’s going to be all the more important for company leadership to stick their head out on these controversial issues and be in touch with where their employees stand on them,” he says. 

As a mid-level executive himself, he says it is important to have these political conversations within teams and then relay the feedback you get to upper management.

Caroline Hopper, managing director of the Citizenship and American Identity program at Aspen Institute agrees. In an interview with CNBC Make It in 2020, Hopper said that in a work environment where political conversations are considered taboo, the discourse is left to the loudest and often most polarizing voices with public platforms, which can lead to more conflict. 

When approaching political conversations in the office she said to follow these principles: don’t try to win, listen empathetically, learn what experience formed that opinion, be willing to learn and change your mind, and know when a discussion will not be productive.

“A ‘better argument’ is one in which all parties respect the humanity of others,” Hopper said. “So, there are instances in which a line must be drawn, and exchange cannot be productive.”

An earlier version of this article misstated where the anonymous executive director made their comments.

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