Why Talking Politics Can Be Good for Workers

Companies that discourage political talk at work may want to rethink their position. New research has found that political give-and-take in the office can strengthen job satisfaction and commitment to an organization.

However, the research only holds true if political discussion is allowed to be free-flowing between both sides. The researchers also found that when supervisors pressure workers to accept their political views, employees experience negative effects in the workplace, which can in turn lead to deviance directed at supervisors and revenge on co-workers.

Overall, 40 percent of respondents said that they had been pressured to accept their supervisors’ political ideas, while 55 percent of workers said they had felt pressure from co-workers. More respondents, however, report having a positive-give-and take about politics with co-workers and bosses. Fifty-five percent of workers say they have had positive conversations with their bosses while 79 percent say they have had conversations with co-workers.

"Unlike other forms of expression at work, the study of political expression in the workplace is in its infancy. These findings demonstrate that both forms of political expression have far-reaching effects, not only for employees but for their families as well," said study co-author Merideth Ferguson, assistant professor of management at the Utah State University Huntsman School of Business.

However, those negative effects can extend much further than the office. In fact, the researchers found that problems stemming from disagreements over political discussions at work can affect home life a great deal. In particular, the researchers found pressured employees reported more work-family conflict, particularly stemming from spouses of employees thinking they intend to look elsewhere for work.

"So many workplaces have policies in place restricting political speech, but with no real research to support these restrictions," said co-author John Ferguson, a lecturer of management at the Utah State University Huntsman School of Business. "Many workplaces and workers could be missing out on the benefits of political discussion, especially when that discussion is handled appropriately. Political speech at work is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, when supervisors engage employees in a political discussion characterized by a sense of give-and-take, those subordinates experience more job satisfaction and higher commitment to the organization."

The research was based on the responses of 304 workers and spouses.

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