Should You Talk Politics in the Office?

Last month, Kyle S. Reyes contributed an article to the New Boston Post describing the most recent recruitment drive at his company, Silent Partner Marketing.

Reyes had instituted a questionnaire – the ‘Snowflake Test’ – which all candidates were required to answer. Among the questions? “What does “faith” mean to you?”, “When was the last time you cried?”, and the brilliantly suggestive, “What are your feelings about employees or clients carrying guns?”

According to Reyes, the test is a way of finding employees “who actually want to hustle for a living.” Of course, what it really does is proscribe any candidate with liberal or non-Republican views.

While the media outcry has been loud, as Reyes doubtless intended it to be, his articles beg the question: what role should one’s personal politics play in the recruitment process – more, in the working world as a whole? Luckily, in the aftermath of the U.S. Election 2016, there’s plenty of data to be found.

Making headlines

Tim Cook on LGBT rights. Howard Schultz on firearms. The U.K.’s Alan Sugar on New Labour. In this day and age, it’s not enough to be a millionaire business leviathan and top of one of the world’s most successful companies; you have to be a political commentator too.

Social media has ushered in an age of CEO activism – that is, a forum where powerful company bosses feel obliged to weigh in on political discourses, whether related to their business or not. The effects of their efforts on politics are debatable, but a 2016 survey of 1,027 U.S. adults cataloged the relationship between political statements and customer relations.

Their findings? Firstly, political activism isn’t a sure-fire way to endear consumers to a company. While about a quarter of employed Americans said they’d feel more loyal to a company if its CEO took an activist stance, nearly a fifth claimed their loyalty would lessen. Nor are CEOs necessarily aiding their personal popularity with such statements; Americans believe the top objective behind CEO activism is “to get media attention” (36%).

So if you’re a business owner looking to make your political opinions known, think twice before sending that tweet. Chances are, it won’t do your business – or your media profile – many favors.

Generation game

What’s the most likely social group to a) approve of CEO/business activism, and b) buy from companies with whose political positions they agree? Ding! You guessed it. Millennials.

That same 2016 survey shows that those who fall within the 18-35 age bracket are the ones who’ll make their buying decisions based on political leanings.

While 46% of Gen Y-ers will buy from a company whose activist drives they agree, only 19% will purchases goods or services from the ideological anathema.

Finally, millennials are also more likely to enter political discussions at work willingly. Good luck with that…

Driven to distraction

Fascinatingly, your productivity at work may go down during politically turbulent times. Kris Duggan of BetterWorks commissioned a survey after the U.S. election last year and found that 29% of workers claimed that they were less productive since the election. Moreover, the number increased to 35% among those who read ten or more politics-related social media posts a day.

The effect was most pronounced in – surprise, surprise – millennials. Gen Y in general cared more about politics than their more jaded elders. They read on average 4 more politically-themed articles a day at work. Election coming up?

Keep an eye on your grad recruits…

Keeping the peace

We begin with the biggie: political discussions and colleagues. Although we tend to think of politics as a very public issue – it’s on the news all the time, after all – our actual views are often far from it. Political persuasions are intensely personal and, in many cases, deeply ingrained. As a result, discussions that revolve around the subject are not only unlikely to yield fruit, but they can become very heated extremely quickly. Maybe that’s why 65% of business professionals are tired of hearing political chats at work.

The expert advice? Avoid these conversations. You run a double risk with any political discussion: firstly, that your views may clash with others, potentially coloring their perception of you; secondly, that you yourself will have your perceptions colored. And don’t kid yourself; you will be judged on any strong political views, no matter how justified you think they are.

If you do find yourself forced onto a touchy subject, keep things as non-judgmental as possible. It is almost certain that you and one of your co-workers will have different views on a subject – possibly completely disparate ones. No matter how compelling your arguments, nobody changes their ideologies based on a passing conversation with a colleague. So don’t try to persuade anyone of your point of view; merely hear their position and move on.

Psychologist Tasha Eurich has some clear advice for the politically charged. “My strongest advice,” she writes for Entrepreneur, “is to simply avoid talking politics, even in a casual way. I know, I know. It’s really hard and the temptation is intense. But here’s the thing: if you learn anything you don’t like, you can never un-know it.” Don’t want to discover your boss is a Ku Klux Klan sympathizer? Back out of that boardroom as soon as the first tensions arise.

So, while Kyle Reyes may be indirectly discriminatory in his selection processes, he may also be on to something. Sure, his workplace might be horrendously one-note – the worst kind of political echo chamber. But at least they won’t be arguing over the Clinton email scandal come three PM.

About the author: Susanna Quirke is a career advice writer and editor of the InspiringInterns blog.

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