Does political banter belong in the office?
Embarrassed. That’s how Sam Smith (last name changed), 32, says he feels about JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon’s 2018 rant in which he claimed to be tougher and smarter than President Trump, and that he could beat him in an election.
“It’s disconcerting when the CEO of your employer says something like that about the president,” says the software engineer. “We’re supposed to trust [Dimon’s] judgement. Our paychecks and bonuses depend on him.”
Sam says he also got into a kerfuffle about the incident with some co-workers. “They cited freedom of speech. I argued that when you’re the CEO, you speak for the company. Anyways, we’re over it now, but it could have gotten ugly.”
Welcome to the new world of work, where discussing politics, once considered taboo, is quickly becoming the norm. In a survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 56 percent of US employees said that politics and the discussion of political issues have become more common in the past four years. Forty-two percent have personally experienced political disagreements at work, while 34 percent said their workplace is not inclusive of differing political perspectives, and 12 percent have personally experienced bias because of their political-affiliation bias.
Moreover, president of SHRM Johnny Taylor says an unprecedented number of employers are calling his office for counsel about dealing with situations arising from political discussions. “They want to know if they can ban them,” he says, noting that public companies can’t, but some private companies can. “But that’s not what we recommend.”
He suggests that employers encourage workers to engage civilly. “But if talking about politics becomes a distraction and takes away from work, managers are going to have to deal with it, or people might leave,” he says.
Enduring a constant barrage of political talk was one of the reasons that Sarah Johnson, a public relations director at Midtown-based Fit Small Business, quit her last job. “I started there right before the 2016 election and all I heard, all day, was how great one particular candidate was,” she says. “And then when Trump won the election, everyone was devastated.”
Things got worse for the Upper East Sider. “All anyone talked about was protesting against Trump. The only way you could get time off was if you were going to protest.”
Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler, Ph.D., author of “Optimal Outcomes: Free Yourself From Conflict at Work, at Home, and in Life” (Harper Business, out Feb. 25) says you may not have to go as far as quitting to escape the chatter. “Try addressing the issue head-on.
Say something like, ‘Hey, I love you, but I’d rather not talk about politics all of the time,’ or ‘These discussions are getting in the way of my work,’ ” she says.
That said, sometimes bosses, and others, believe that everyone has the same opinions and feelings they do and have no idea that they might be making others feel uncomfortable.
“There, it’s the manager that might need to make the change,” says Goldman-Wetzler. However, if everyone wants to talk about politics all of time and you don’t, consider if you fit the job. “Some people do better if they are aligned with a company’s values,” she says.
Christina Roldan, managing director of Gentleman Scholar, a creative production company in Soho, says that people in her office talk about presidential politics, and other politics, freely, all the time. One of the art directors, Dennis Go, is Chinese-Filipino and was openly excited about former presidential candidate Andrew Yang, who dropped out of the race last week.
‘When Trump won the election, everyone was devastated.’
Roldan sees the differences in opinion at Gentleman Scholar “as a way of celebrating our diversity.” However, Gentleman Scholar seems to be more the exception than the rule. A survey by the Ascent, a financial review hub owned by the Motley Fool, found that more than 77 percent of survey respondents said that they’d be less comfortable discussing politics at work than their health or quitting their jobs.
But conversations about politics, including the environment and sustainability, don’t need to be confrontational, says Jason Parkin, president and chief creative officer of Compose[d], a provider of digital and creative services in Midtown. Although he hasn’t told his staff whom he plans to vote for in the primaries, he suspects they know. “I feel very strongly about the environment,” he says. Yet, “inclusivity and standing up for equality are also very dear to me. You don’t need to think like we do to be hired or to fit into a particular box to work here.”
Still, the entire team at Compose[d] went to the Climate Strike in September without losing a day of pay. “No one was forced to go, they could have stayed in the office and worked. They wouldn’t have been shamed,” says Parkin.
You do need to be careful about how and when you express your political opinions in the workplace, especially in job interviews. Abby Thomas, the New York branch manager at Robert Half, a human resources consulting firm, says she was put off by a candidate who started her interview by talking about the divisive political climate. “It’s not what she said, but the context. Politics can be very emotional and polarizing. You have to be mindful of that.”
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