Talking Politics At Work Stresses Us Out More Now Than During Election Season

These aren’t exactly productive water cooler conversations.

It’s no secret that our current political discourse often falls short of civilized, but according to a newly released survey from the American Psychological Association, the impact this has on our workplaces may be getting worse. More American workers report feeling stressed over political talk at the office now than they did before the 2016 Presidential Election.

Image courtesy of Pixabay

The new survey included responses from 1,311 Americans with full or part-time jobs. (The pre-election survey, which asked the same questions, included 927 respondents who met the same employment criteria.) Twenty-six percent of those surveyed said they felt “tense or stressed out” because of political talk at work now compared to 17 percent pre-Election. Twenty-one percent of people reported feeling more negative and cynical during work hours compared to 15 percent before the election.

Politics are causing problems for both work culture and output: 40 percent of people said that talking politics at the office has led to at least one “negative outcome, such as reduced productivity, poorer work quality, difficulty getting work done, a more negative view of coworkers, feeling tense or stressed, or increased workplace hostility,” according to the APA press release. That’s up from 27 percent of people reporting a negative outcome before ballots were cast in November. Twenty-four percent of people went so far as to say they’d avoided specific coworkers due to their political beliefs and 15 percent said they’d gotten into a political argument with a colleague.

In today’s highly collaborative work environment, this is a serious problem. The new survey found that sixteen percent of people said they felt isolated from their coworkers and 17 percent said cohesiveness among their team had taken a hit.

“Employers might prefer to keep political talk out of the workplace, but the reality is these often-heated discussions have intensified since the election, posing a threat to employee well-being and business performance,” David W. Ballard, PsyD, MBA, director of APA’s Center for Organizational Excellence, said in the press release. “Whether it’s about politics or any other difficult conversation on the job, managers and supervisors need to create a work climate where people with diverse opinions and backgrounds can work together toward common goals without their differences creating a toxic environment.”

Interestingly, the survey suggests that not everyone has been equally affected. Eleven percent more women now say current politics make them feel negative and cynical during the workday than they did pre-election. Compare that to men, who only logged a three percent increase in those feelings since the pre-election survey was conducted.

While it’s not surprising that liberals are more likely to report feeling stressed over politics in the office these days than moderates and conservatives, it’s also helping them feel more connected to other liberals coworkers. (Moderates and conservatives didn’t report feeling quite as connected to colleagues with the same political views.)

With politics playing such an outsize role in our lives today (not to mention non-stop coverage playing out on all of our various screens), it’s virtually impossible not to let talk of it seep into the office. But as these findings suggest, the discussions we’re having right now leave room for improvement.

We can all work to be more courteous and open-minded with co-workers who see the world differently than we do, but to really achieve productive conversations on topics that tend to divide us, companies have to get involved, too. “Employers and employees have a shared responsibility to resist the trap of vilifying those with different opinions and actively encourage civility, respect, collaboration and trust,” Ballard said in the press release. “A psychologically healthy work environment can help diminish the negative consequences of unavoidable political discussions and serve as a source of stability and support, even during divisive times.”

Read more about the survey findings here.