Advice for Millennials on Political Discussions at Work

Election 2016
Posted By Terri Williams on October 31, 2016 at 5:56 pm
Advice for Millennials on Political Discussions at Work

During the heat of the election season, voter excitement often spills over into the workplace. Most employees spend one-third of their day with their co-workers, and it may be inevitable that conversations drift into this area. So are political discussions at work a bad thing?

First, let’s delve into the practice. According to a new survey by Accountemps, men and young workers are more likely to have a favorable view of political discussions in the workplace.

When workers were asked, “How do you feel about politics and discussing the presidential election at work?” the responses were as follows:

Overall Men Women
It helps to keep workers informed 44% 52% 34%
Discussions could get heated and offend others 56% 48% 66%

 

When categorized by age group, young workers have the most positive view of engaging in political discourse at work.

18-34 years 35-54 years 55+ years
It helps to keep workers informed 52% 39% 39%
Discussions could get heated and offend others 48% 61% 61%

 

A previous Accountemps survey reveals that millennials are more likely to get into heated political debates than other age groups. This is not surprising, considering that unemployment and underemployment is highest in this age group. A recent poll reveals what millennials want in the next president, and the economy leads the list.

Millennials are also more likely to get distracted at work: they spend more time in nonwork conversations, and they have more trouble focusing on work because they’re spending additional time online following the news. However, millennials are least likely to believe that their work relationships have been hurt as a result of political discussions.

GoodCall asked several experts for advice on ways to keep these conversations from becoming contentious, as well as ways to remain productive (and therefore, employed) workers.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Talking Politics With Colleagues

  • Don’t bring up politics. Bill Driscoll, district manager of Accountemps tells GoodCall that it may be best to completely avoid political subjects. “Instead, talk about what you did over the weekend, if you are looking forward to the holidays, or other non-political news,” he says.
  • Don’t debate or lecture. For those who want to engage in political banter, take a lighthearted approach. “Instead of focusing on hot-button issues or opinions about political candidates, limit yourself to general comments or try to change the subject,” Driscoll recommends.
  • Do know when to walk away. If the banter turns into a heated discussion, it’s best to stop the conversation – but end it gracefully. “Remember, too, what you say to a colleague outside of work regarding political discussions may cause them to form an opinion of you at work,” he says.
  • Do be courteous. Remember that you’re in the workplace – not at a football game, and your tone and content should reflect your surroundings. Driscoll warns, “Avoid making a joke at someone else’s expense or saying something that could be viewed as offensive.”

One millennial who tries to avoid political discussions at work is Stephanie Williams, who works in Clyde-Savannah Central School District in Clyde, NY. Since she works in an educational environment, Williams says it’s hard to avoid politics at work.

“I’ve made it a personal policy not to discuss politics with my coworkers, and when I’m asked anything about the election, I politely make that clear,” Williams says.  “I do however, have a ‘Hello Kitty for President’ sticker on my office door and that’s about as political as I get.”

The approach taken by Williams demonstrates one way to handle sticky political conversations.

However, Sharon Schweitzer, international etiquette expert, author, and founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide, tells GoodCall that it may be difficult for some millennials to respond truthfully when coworkers want to start political banter. She provides examples of specific responses in three scenarios:

You don’t want to respond. If you really don’t want to engage in the conversation, consider something like, “In the midst of such a contentious political season, I feel it’s best to keep my opinion to myself,” advises Schweitzer. “I do appreciate your interest and wish you the best in your political decisions.”

It’s hard to be offended by that type of response. “By acknowledging and thanking them for their genuine interest, you are able to get out of sticky political conversations but retain your well-mannered and ever sophisticated demeanor,” Schweitzer explains.

If they are persistent. When coworkers keep asking for a response, Schweitzer recommends saying you’re undecided and then change the subject. “I’m still evaluating the candidates and the issues and haven’t made up my mind yet; it will be interesting to see how it plays out.”

When changing the subject, the key is to choose a topic that coworkers will want to discuss. For example:

  • “I hear your son got accepted to Ohio State. Congratulations!”
  • “Great job on closing that account.  How did you do it?”
  • “Tell me about your trip to the mountains a few weeks ago. I hear it is beautiful this time of year.”

If you want to respond. If you would like to express your beliefs, Schweitzer recommends taking a logical approach. “Cite research and concrete reasons why your views align a certain way, as this will encourage more of an intellectual conversation than a possible war of opinions.”

Ways to stay focused

While this political season can lead to never-ending discussions, don’t let it consume your workday. “Our survey shows the biggest reason workers are losing productivity over the election is from engaging in nonwork conversations,” Driscoll says. However, there is work to be done and deadlines to be met. Driscoll provides 3 tips to help millennial workers stay on track:

  • Set aside time at the beginning of the day to think about what you need to get accomplished. With an end goal in mind, you will be less likely to engage in socializing.
  • Take breaks at scheduled times to chat with coworkers. If the topic turns to politics, take it as your cue to get back to work.
  • Politely let coworkers know that you have a deadline to meet so they don’t expect you to engage in office banter.

When employees are weighing the decision to engage in political discussions, the most important factor should be the employer and how it views these conversations. David Waring, co-founder of Fit Small Business, tells GoodCall, “The number one ground rule for discussing politics in the office is, don’t discuss politics in the office.”

As a general rule, he thinks political discussions at work are not a good idea because people are passionate about their beliefs and not likely to change opinions based on a conversation. “What matters in the workplace is focusing on work and getting things done, and not what someone’s political opinion may be.”

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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