Best to tread lightly in stating your political views at work

ON THE JOB

January 23, 2008|By HANAH CHO

With the presidential campaign in full swing, talk around the office water cooler will more likely involve politics these days.

I know it's hard to avoid it in my office because, well, journalists love gabbing about the ins and outs of campaigning.

But expressing your political views is one of those tricky workplace minefields that can cause problems for employers and workers alike.

"It's like religion and sex," says Nancy E. Glube, a human resources executive at a telecommunications company who sits on the Society for Human Resource Management's panel for employee relations. "It's sensitive because it would be sensitive outside of the workplace. You bring it into the workplace, and it gets kicked up a few notches."

A recent survey of 727 employees by Vault.com, a career media company, found that 52 percent of workers are open about their political views at work. (The survey has a margin of error of 5 percentage points.)

Sixty-six percent said co-workers discuss politics at the office.

Bosses, too, discuss politics at work. Thirty-five percent of respondents say their bosses openly share their political views. What's disturbing, though, is that 9 percent say they feel pressure to conform to their manager's views.

It's that kind of implicit pressure that makes political discussions potentially dangerous in the workplace, Glube says.

With that in mind, keep the conversation light, she advises.

"Most employers want an environment of diversity and inclusion, [but] if employees go around proselytizing their own political views, that causes some problems," Glube says. "It's very similar to telling jokes or talking about religion. All of these things where you never know how the person on the other end will receive it."

Howard K. Kurman, a partner at Offit Kurman PA in Owings Mills who advises companies on labor and employment issues, says employers are aware that workers will be engaging in some political talk at the office, especially during a presidential election year.

"Employees have an interest in national politics and those discussions are going to take place," he says. "They may spill over from the lunchroom or the water cooler. Employers will not regulate that unless it becomes offensive or distracts employees from their work. There is a fair amount of tolerance, in actuality."

Send your stories, tips and questions to working@baltsun.com. Please include your first name and your city. On the Job is published Monday at www.baltimoresun.com.

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