A Workforce Divided: Survey Finds Alarming Rise of Politics at Work

November 5, 2019

ALEXANDRIA, Va., November 5, 2019 — For decades, conventional business wisdom has held that employees should check their political opinions at the door. A new SHRM survey, however, shows that not only are political conversations occurring at work, they're on the rise—and causing conflicts. The findings suggest that political topics—like race, sex and gender—are a dimension of diversity that workplace cultures should include and embrace by facilitating civil conversations.

(Infographic: The Alarming Rise of Politics at Work

The Politics at Work survey, fielded October 7-14, follows SHRM's 2019 culture report, which found nearly 1 in 5 Americans have quit a job in the past five years due to toxic workplace culture—costing U.S. companies $223 billion in turnover. Taken together SHRM's research suggests that the rise of political conflicts in the workplace could drive disengagement and intensify toxicity: 

  • 42 percent of U.S. employees have personally experienced political disagreements in the workplace.
  • A majority (56 percent) say politics, and the discussion of political issues, has become more common in the past four years.
  • More than one-third (34 percent) say their workplace is not inclusive of differing political perspectives.
  • 12 percent have personally experienced political affiliation bias.

"One year out from the 2020 election, we should expect to see political disagreements increase even further in the coming months" said SHRM President and CEO Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP. "Companies can't, and shouldn't try to, quash these conversations because—contrary to popular belief—they're already happening. But what they can do is create inclusive cultures of civility where difference isn't a disruption."

(Video: "What Does Inclusion Look Like?" Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., Keynote Speech)

Taylor added: "Companies need to be proactive, not reactive. We're talking about hot-button issues that fire people up, so it's important to put up 'guardrails' when facilitating constructive, inclusive environments where employees can disagree without being disagreeable."      

Media: SHRM President and CEO Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., and SHRM Chief Knowledge Officer Alex Alonso are available for interviews. Contact Cooper Nye of SHRM Media Relations at Cooper.Nye@shrm.org to schedule an interview.

Methodology: A sample of 522 working Americans was surveyed using the Amerispeak Omnibus survey, NORC at the University of Chicago's probability-based panel which was designed to be representative of the U.S. household population. The survey was administered October 7-14, 2019.



Hire the best HR talent or advance your own career.

Member Benefit: Ask-An-Advisor Service

SHRM's HR Knowledge Advisors offer guidance and resources to assist members with their HR inquiries.

SHRM's HR Knowledge Advisors offer guidance and resources to assist members with their HR inquiries.



HR Daily Newsletter

News, trends and analysis, as well as breaking news alerts, to help HR professionals do their jobs better each business day.