The FINANCIAL — Conversations about political issues at work are on the rise. Nearly six in 10 U.S. workers say that the people around them have been discussing political issues more often over the past four months than they have in the past.
These results are based on interviews conducted March 13-25 with more than 3,200 workers employed full or part time for an employer. The study was designed to quantify anecdotal reports of the effect of President Donald Trump’s election on workplace discussion and productivity, according to Gallup.
Is the increased discussion of politics in the workplace a good or bad thing? Most workers who say there has been more discussion of politics indicate it has had no effect on their ability to do work — either positively or negatively.
More specifically, a combined 85% of all workers either say there has been no more discussion of politics at work than previously, or report more political discussion but with no effect on the employee’s performance.
That leaves 11% of all U.S. workers who both report increased political discussion at work and say it is negatively affecting their ability to do work. Another 4% say increased discussion has positively affected their work.
By a 4-to-1 ratio, Democrats who perceive more discussion of politics say it is having a negative effect on their work rather than a positive effect. Independents also tilt toward the negative side of the ledger. Republicans are essentially divided on its effect.
26% of Employees Say Company Leaders Have Communicated About Politics
Despite the increased level of political discussion in the workplace, the majority of companies don’t appear to be directly addressing the issue. About a quarter of workers (26%) say their company’s leadership has communicated with workers over the past four months about political issues, while the rest say they are unaware of any such efforts.
Employees who report negative effects from increased political discussion at work are slightly more likely than others to say their corporate leadership has communicated about political issues. It’s possible that companies are communicating about politics in the workplace precisely because they are aware of these negative effects, or it may be that workers most negatively affected have asked management to do something about it.
Workers who identify as Democrats, younger workers and those who are college graduates are modestly more likely than others to say their company has communicated about political issues.
Disengaged Workers Less Likely to Report Corporate Communication
Gallup routinely measures employee engagement and categorizes workers as engaged, not engaged or actively disengaged with their job. Actively disengaged workers are significantly less likely to say their company leadership has discussed political issues. Specifically, 17% of actively disengaged workers report corporate communication, compared with 29% of engaged workers and 28% of not engaged workers.
This relationship could partly reflect one reason why some workers are actively disengaged — less communication from the top. Gallup research has shown that leaders of companies with more highly engaged employees are more intentional about sensitive issues like this. They are better communicators, in general, and are more concerned about the welfare of their employees. This relationship could also reflect that disengaged workers are not paying attention. Whatever the reason, disengaged workers may be the ones who are most in need of leadership communication on sensitive issues such as this.
Political conversations at work, although more prevalent since the election, do not appear to be a major problem in U.S. workplaces. Few employees seem to be offending one another by discussing controversial and sensitive political matters.
Still, the finding that political discussion is negatively affecting about one in 10 workers is not to be dismissed. Managers need to be equipped to handle these cases appropriately as they come up.
Gallup did not ask these same types of questions after the election of previous presidents, so it is not known if the increased political interaction at work is specific to Trump or something that is normal when a new president takes office. Additionally, these attitudes as measured four months after Trump’s election may not reflect where things will be in the future.
Jim Harter contributed to this article.