Handling heated political talk at work


argumentAs this presidential election year has progressed, it seems there’s nowhere you can escape political discussions. Not even at work.

A new CareerBuilder survey has found that 30 percent of employers and 17 percent of employees have argued with a co-worker over a particular candidate this election season.

Kimberly Stiener-Murphy of Robert Half Staffing said she’s not surprised that political arguments break out from time to time.

“Think about it, though. You’ve got all walks of life in the workforce,” she said.

The survey was conducted by Harris Poll before the national conventions. At that time, it didn’t matter much which candidate was involved: 17 percent of people argued about Republican candidate Donald Trump, and 16 percent argued about Democrat Hillary Clinton.

The survey did find that 20 percent of male employees said they’d had an argument at work over politics compared to 15 percent of female employees.

At 24 percent, workers between 18 and 24 years of age were the most likely to say they’d engaged in heated political debates at work.

Political arguments were more likely to break out in the following types of businesses:

  • IT: 47 percent
  • Manufacturing: 37 percent
  • Professional and Business Services: 30 percent
  • Financial Services: 29 percent
  • Health Care: 24 percent
  • Retail: 23 percent


Human resources professionals point out that it’s possible for such discussions to become uncomfortable or unprofessional.

The key to discussion in the workplace is to be fair and respectful, but if a conversation is becoming uncomfortable, Stiener-Murphy says you always have the option of walking away.

“I think you have to know when things are getting heated, and I think you always have to be the bigger person and say, ‘You know what? I think I’m going to stay out of this particular argument,’” she said.

Businesses walk a fine line between making sure the workplace is professional and appearing to censor expression. The survey found that half of workers believe their workplace has become too politically correct.

Career Builder offered the following advice for businesses that want to be open but professional:

  • Recognize there’s a thin line between freedom of expression and a potential source of conflict. Consider providing respect and dignity behavioral training to all employees and emphasize tolerance for different ideas, beliefs and needs.
  • Ensure your harassment policies and harassment complaint system are posted and that employees are trained in the process. Similarly, make sure employees are aware of any guidelines that prohibit bringing campaign materials into the office.
  • Create a culture of open dialogue and mutual respect, but if conversations do turn heated, encourage employees to walk away.

Stiener-Murphy said it is appropriate for supervisors to step if they need to.

“I do think you want to have an open and a safe environment, but I think if you’re sitting somewhere and you’re hearing a conversation that could be construed as uncomfortable for anyone, I do think it’s appropriate to say, ‘You guys, I think this is getting a little bit too heavy,’” she said.

The nationwide survey was conducted online by Harris Poll on behalf of CareerBuilder among 1,902 managers ages 18 and over (employed full-time, not self-employed, non-government) and 3,244 employees ages 18 and over (employed full-time, not self-employed, non-government) between May 11 and June 7.


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