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Political Views Are Causing Office Toxicity

October 21, 2022

By Heather Nezich, courtesy SBAM Approved Partner ASE

According to a new survey by SHRM, one in five U.S. workers (20%) have experienced poor treatment in the workplace by coworkers or peers due to their political views. What happened to keeping political views private in the workplace? The 2020 election along with the pandemic has thrown civility out the window.

20% of HR professionals say there is greater political volatility at work than there was three years ago. SHRM found a quarter of U.S. workers (24%) have personally experienced political affiliation bias, including preferential treatment or undue negative treatment on the basis of their political positions or opinions, compared to 12% of U.S. workers in 2019.

“Unfortunately, we’ve seen a real decline in civility when people express their opinions and beliefs, and it’s a barrier to success for employers and their employees,” said SHRM President and CEO Johnny C. Taylor, Jr. “This trend has been fueled by the relative anonymity of social media, and it has spilled into our communities and our workplaces. In today’s climate, people are saying, ‘I can’t work with you if you don’t share my views.’ It’s a problem HR professionals and business leaders cannot ignore. I am hopeful SHRM’s research will help organizations build constructive dialogue in the workplace—for the good of employees, the bottom line and society at large.”

Study results are especially troubling when it comes to the role of politics and employee advancement. Over 1 in 10 U.S. workers (13%) have experienced limited opportunities for promotions due to their political views.

SHRM found that most organizations have not experienced an uptick in employee complaints related to political discussions at work (88%) or had to respond to an employee for political-related conflict in the workplace (84%). At the same time, however, the percentage of U.S. workers who say they’ve experienced political affiliation bias or differential treatment because of their political views has increased by over 10 percentage points in the past three years.

Other key findings from the study include:

  • Today, 45% of U.S. workers say they have personally experienced political disagreements in the workplace, compared to 42% of U.S. workers in 2019.
  • Those who work fully in-person (50%) are more likely to say they’ve experienced political disagreements in the workplace than hybrid workers (36%) and fully remote workers (39%).
  • Over a quarter of U.S. workers (26%) engage in political discussions with their coworkers.
  • Only 8% of organizations have communicated guidelines to employees around political discussions at work, particularly leading up to the 2022 midterm elections.
  • When it comes to inclusive workplace cultures, two-thirds of U.S. workers (66%) say that the employees in their organization are inclusive of differing political perspectives amongst other employees, and nearly the same amount (68%) say that their organization is inclusive of differing political perspectives amongst employees.
  • Liberal workers (70%) and moderate workers (73%) are more likely to say the employees in their organization are inclusive of differing political perspectives among other employees than conservative workers (60%).
  • Supervisors are 10 percentage points more likely to be hesitant to hire a job applicant who disclosed they had extremely conservative beliefs (30%) than an applicant who disclosed they had extremely liberal beliefs (20%).
  • Over 4 in 5 (82%) U.S. workers plan to vote this year. Of these workers, the top political issues influencing their vote include the economy (48%), inflation (38%), abortion (37%), gun policies (32%), health care (28%) and immigration policy (18%).
  • 45% of U.S. workers have experienced political disagreements in the workplace, and nearly the same amount (46%) have witnessed or observed political disagreements in the workplace.
  • Male workers (30%) are more likely to say they’ve personally experienced political affiliation bias than female workers (18%).
  • Over 1 in 10 U.S. workers (13%) have experienced bullying in the workplace due to their political views.
  • Nearly 30 percent of U.S. workers (27%) have experienced joking about their beliefs in the workplace.
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