Don’t even think about talking politics at work.
More than half of Americans (54%) say they’ve discussed politics at work since the election, according to a survey of more than 1,300 adults released by the American Psychological Association on Wednesday. What’s more, 31% have witnessed a fight over politics in the office, and 15% have gotten into an altercation themselves over the topic.
That’s making work unpleasant for many of us: For 40% of workers, this political talk has caused at least one negative outcome, such as reduced productivity, poorer work quality, difficulty getting work done, a more negative view of coworkers or increased workplace hostility. More than one in four people (26%) say they feel tense or stressed out because of these politic talks — up from 17% in September.
Experts say you have to avoid these talks. “It is a landmine,” says Call to Career founder Cheryl Palmer of discussing politics at work. “You may well find that there are people at work who agree with your political viewpoint. But it is just as likely that there are those who oppose it. Because politics is so divisive, especially to a team environment at work, it is usually best to avoid it.”
Career coach Hallie Crawford notes that talking politics can do more than irritate others. “Politics can affect your image at work,” she says. “Anything you’re talking about in the workplace is being evaluated in some way, shape or form. You’re always being evaluated – whether they will hire you, fire you, do more business with you based on anything you say, politics included.”
Of course, sometimes someone else brings up the topic — and you’re unsure what to do. Palmer suggests that you “say something neutral and then find an excuse to move on.” Crawford says to “smile and laugh or whatever is appropriate, and steer the conversation in a different direction.” And career coach Carlota Zimmerman says that if it’s really making you uncomfortable simply say, “excuse me, I’m just not comfortable discussing this; I’m going to get back to work.”
In rare cases, it may be okay to engage in these conversations — if you’re careful. “If you have a co-worker who agrees with your viewpoint, and that person is also a personal friend, you might talk politics outside of work,” Palmer says — adding that ” it’s usually safest to keep what you say work-related.” And Crawford notes that if you keep the topics light — a Saturday Night Live skit, for example — it could be okay, as long as it is clear that you’re not endorsing or campaigning for any one candidate.