Why you should avoid discussing Trump or Pelosi at work

A new survey shows more than half of workers have expressed their political views at work, yet worry about it affecting their careers.

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It's an old adage, oft misquoted, but the gist is clear: "Three things you should never talk about are money, politics, and religion." But what Mark Twain, originator of the sentiment, actually said was: "Never discuss politics or religion in polite company."

And the workplace, no matter how collegial, should be a veritable bastion of polite company. A new Glassdoor survey conducted by the Harris Poll revealed that while US employees prefer to keep politics out of work, most find they nevertheless still engage in political conversation at work.

News rushes through the internet fast and furiously, it's featured in the opening monologues of network late-night shows, and yet hot takes remain a challenge in the workplace. 

Employees are encouraged to avoid discussing the outrageous, ridiculous, and astonishing. 

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Deemed unacceptable

Most US employees (60%) believe political discussions are "unacceptable" at work, yet one in two employees (57%) have done so, reports the Glassdoor 2020 Politics at Work survey. 

Women are 66% more likely than their male counterparts (54%) to believe discussing politics at work is unacceptable. 

There's little division between "blue" (Democratic/liberal) and "red" (Republican/conservative) states—based on the 2016 election results—58% employees who live in a blue state and 56% of employees who live in a red state acknowledge discussing politics at work.

Can politics hinder career opportunities?

Some 60% of employees believe discussing politics at work could have a negative impact on their career opportunities, with Democrats (62%) and Republicans (58%) divided over the opinion. 

Among employees ages 18-34, more than 63% believe political discussions at work negatively impact career opportunities. 

The report did not specify why, though, meaning if respondents' worries stem from the potential of an escalating disagreement in front of co-workers, or if they believe they may reveal a political affiliation different than their supervisors.

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Flipping out

They may say, "let's agree to disagree," but the Glassdoor survey revealed 28% of employees said a co-worker tried to persuade them to switch political parties, and 21% didn't want to work with a co-worker who plans to vote for a presidential candidate they don't like. Party lines have a purpose, too, as 24% Republicans and 23% Democrats would not want to work with an associate who plans to vote for a candidate they dislike. 

Say yes to encourage voting and political activity

Despite finding discussions of politics at work unacceptable, 54% of employees believe companies should encourage employees to vote or be politically active outside of work, and more than half (67%) would apply to work at a company that actively supports a "rival" political party. 

But things are different when it comes to their peers, as 25% of people say they'd consider leaving a company if the majority of their co-workers had different political views from their own.  And divided by party lines, 29% Democrats and 26% Republicans would consider leaving a company if the majority of co-workers have different political views. 

Just say no or walk away

Ultimately, the report's message is clear: err on the side of caution. You can avoid the concern of how it will affect your career, or the office culture and environment by simply not talking about politics. 

This survey was conducted online within the United States by the Harris Poll on behalf of Glassdoor from Jan. 13–15, 2020, among 1,204 U.S. employees ages 18 and older. The online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. 

Also see

Talking Politics

Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

By N.F. Mendoza

N.F. Mendoza is a writer at TechRepublic and based in Los Angeles. She has a BA in Broadcast Journalism and Cinema Critical Studies and a Master's of Professional Writing, both from USC. Nadine has more than 20 years experience as a journalist coveri...