Money & Business

Survey Shows a Rising Tide of Political Tension at Work

By / Oct 31, 2016 (iStock/Thinkstock)

With the presidential election quickly approaching, political tension in the workplace has risen since earlier this year, a new survey from the Society for Human Resource Management has found.

When people start talking politics at work, sparks can start flying pretty quickly.

In the last few months, political volatility over the impending presidential election has become considerably worse, according to a survey from the Society for Human Resource Management. “More than one-half of organizations (52%) indicated that there is greater political volatility in the workplace in this presidential election compared to others,” Evren Esen, SHRM’s director of workforce analytics, said in a statement. “This was double the percentage that said there was greater volatility in May of this year (26%).”

SHRM surveyed randomly selected HR professionals across the country in May and then repeated survey questions in October to see whether the situation had changed.

The survey defines political volatility as employee behavior that displays increased tension, hostility, or arguments among coworkers about political affiliation.

In the October survey, 60 percent of the respondents said employees were more vocal about their political opinions than they had been in previous years, and 55 percent said employees believed the presidential candidates were more polarizing.

This tension can be difficult for both employees and employers to manage. It can be tricky to develop and implement policies on employees’ political speech, and the May survey found that only 32 percent of organizations had policies on political activities. Five percent of the October survey respondents said employees at their organizations have violated policies on political activities at work.

Even if employers don’t have formal policies, Esen told Associations Now in June that they “encourage employees to be respectful of diversity. Really, this falls into the diversity of ideas and opinions and attitudes. Regardless of whether people agree with each other, they do need to respect one another.”

In that same article, Karen Glickstein, an attorney who specializes in employment law, suggested that supervisors can remind their staff about workplace harassment or discrimination policies—and noted that employees should recognize that the First Amendment does not always apply in the workplace. She also has written a column offering tips and advice for supervisors.

Allison Torres Burtka

Allison Torres Burtka, a longtime association journalist, is a freelance writer and editor in West Bloomfield, Michigan. More »

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