As Election Day Nears, Workers Are Fighting — and Bonding — Over Politics

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A new survey reports one-quarter of employees have experienced negative consequences of political discussions at work.

By Tom Jacobs


(Photo: Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Were you shocked when Rob, who occupies the cubicle next to yours, told you he supports a candidate you abhor? Is that revelation making your workplace less congenial?

If so, join the club.

A new survey released by the American Psychological Association reports that, in this highly contentious election season, one in four American employees have been negatively affected by political talk at work.

According to the survey of 927 American adults (all employed full- or part-time), which was conducted from August 10–12, 17 percent report they have “felt tense or stressed out” as a result of political discussions at work.

Fifteen percent report they have “felt more cynical and negative at work” as a result, while 13 percent say election talk has made them “less productive,” and 10 percent say it has negatively impacted the quality of their work.

One-quarter of men and 14 percent of women said they “avoid some coworkers because of their political views.”

Nearly half of respondents — 53 percent of men, and 39 percent of women — report that “people at work are more likely to discuss politics this election.” But 52 percent of men and 55 percent of women stay out of it, insisting they “avoid discussing politics with coworkers.”

Sixteen percent of men and 8 percent of women say “team cohesiveness has suffered” due to in-house political disagreements, while 18 percent of men and 8 percent of women report “workplace hostility has increased.”

One-quarter of men and 14 percent of women said they “avoid some coworkers because of their political views.” Breaking it down by age, that number was highest among the youngest voters (those between the ages of 18 and 34), with 28 percent opting to duck into a nearby office when they see hyper-partisan Jeff coming down the hall.

However, those same young employees were by far the most likely to report they “regularly discuss politics with coworkers.” Twenty-nine percent said they did so, compared to 16 to 20 percent of people in the other age groups.

The report also contains some encouraging findings. Sixty percent of respondents “indicated that people at work are generally respectful toward others with differing political views,” which is far below the 26 percent who have “witnessed or overheard their coworkers arguing about politics,” and 11 percent who have gotten into a political argument themselves.

Notably, that last figure differs enormously by gender, with 18 percent of men but only 4 percent of women reporting they have gotten into a heated political discussion.

What’s more, 27 percent of men and 21 percent of women report they “feel more connected to coworkers” as a result of water-cooler political discussions. Realizing you have something in common with a colleague you don’t know too well can bring people closer together.

Sure, Sue leaves her dishes in the lunchroom sink for someone else to wash. But at least when it comes to politics, we’re on the same side.