Political Divides in the Workplace

  • Oct 29
Political Divides in the Workplace

As society entered the Information Age, everyone seemingly became an ‘Armchair Politician’ and began discussing politics at work. “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” Victor Hugo wrote this in 1845. I’ve always admired this quote and thought it introduced a great principal to live by. Stand up for what you believe in. Little did I realize what this motto could snowball into. Especially when it comes to political divides.

Discussing Politics at Work

I always wondered how old I would be when I’d start using the adage, “I remember a time when…”. Apparently, that age is thirty-four. Because I remember a time when discussing politics was one of the most “taboo” things you could do. It simply seemed to be a matter of business and culture. Even during my college years, I can only recall one instance in which my colleagues debated ideologies. I don’t even remember what the issue at hand was. Because I completely tuned out until the conversation transitioned toward something I could contribute to. Listening was not one of my strong suits as a young man.

The nice part about the college environment was you could almost always escape an unpleasant situation. Very few things ever required spending eight hours a day with the same people. And, if it did, at least you could take solace in the fact that it would only be temporary. But then came the real world in the form of a 40+ hour work week, with people you could very well see on a day-in-day-out basis for decades. That used to make the daily grind more enjoyable. Because when you appreciated the people around you and the only debate happening usually stemmed from a sporting event. Back in those days, workplace politics referred to rubbing elbows with the right executives to enhance your chances of climbing the corporate ladder.

The Lincoln Memorial, representative of bridging political divides during difficult times

Social Media’s Influence on Political Divides

When platforms like Myspace and Facebook first hit the scene, it felt like what the release of the first cell phone must have felt like. We could easily stay up to date with anyone and everyone. The word, “friend,” replaced “acquaintance,” even though you might only have sat next to one another on a flight somewhere. But what’s the harm in that? People became more connected and embraced each other. They could easily observe and reduce the six degrees of separation. Meeting someone and then not becoming Facebook friends quickly became socially unacceptable. This is where things started to get out of control.

Status Updates Are Megaphones

Because of social media, everyone had an audience. They were going to be heard, whether you liked it or not. Thanks to this, you started to find out things you didn’t want to know about people you once respected. Everyone became their own version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. That soft-spoken, easy to get along with coworker at the office turned out to have a fiery side, full of obnoxious opinions they couldn’t share enough of in cyberspace.

This is what we have evolved into, thanks to the Information Age, and it plagues every community we are a part of. No matter how hard you try to remain unbiased, it’s almost impossible not to feel something when you discover the political affiliation of a coworker. That feeling is generally either relief or disappointment. Relief in knowing you both are rooting for the same team, or disappointment in having to start watching what you say in the other person’s company.

Stirring the Pot

Now, don’t get me wrong, I do believe the vast majority of people show a great deal of civility to their counterparts in the workplace, despite their political leanings. Countless great friendship have withstood or even formed through differences. However, the problem arises when one coworker who has a tendency to stir the pot makes people choose sides. We all know a person like this, and it’s in their nature to cause conflict. The worst part is it only takes one bad apple to spoil the bunch.

Since politics basically encompasses everything and, in this country, many people are either for or against each issue with no overlap, it’s the easiest thing to want someone to choose a side. Where things get messy is when someone only dichotomizes people: conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat. When you take on the identity of either of these parties, people immediately assume you fall on the far right or far left, agreeing wholeheartedly with your party on every single possible issue. When in reality, there’s a high likelihood that there are some issues you side with the other party on.

Unfortunately, it would take too much time for everyone to set up an ‘About Me: Politically’ informational page, in which you go through every imaginable issue facing our country today and pick a side. Instead we simply choose between a donkey and an elephant and accept the consequences.

Moving Past Political Divides at Work

Having the ability to carry a subconscious bias against someone or something is not unique to human beings and is demonstrated throughout the animal kingdom. However, the workplace should be a sanctuary where bias is limited as much as humanly possible. Of course, that’s a very difficult objective to achieve while maintaining a healthy and happy work environment. I mean, how do you tell your employees they are forbidden from using social media at the office? That would solve a fair amount of the issues. But if a large amount of marketing is done via social media, it’s impossible to turn it off and expect to run a successful business. I guess all one can hope for these days is that political divides begin to lose their allure. Maybe then, society can get back to a point where small talk about weekend plans and family reigns again.

Did this topic on discussing politics at work interest you? Consider reading our blog on determining and understanding employee needs.

Article written by Vaughn Pourchot

Last updated March 10, 2023