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Just Before the Election, Younger Workers Fear Discrimination and Consider Quitting Over Political Water Cooler Talk

Just Before the Election, Younger Workers Fear Discrimination and Consider Quitting Over Political Water Cooler Talk

Survey reveals importance of political inclusion: Nearly half of under-45s worry they’ll be treated differently if they disagree with manager’s politics; a quarter would look for a new job because of co-workers’ political beliefs

TEMECULA, Calif., Nov. 3, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Political issues are at the top of voters’ minds this week as they go to the polls – inevitably those issues make their way into normal workplace banter. But a new survey by Perceptyx, the employee listening and people analytics leader, shows that voters of different ages don’t agree on the rules that guide political talk in the workplace, or how much they are affected by political discrimination. 

While only 13% of workers over 45 report experiencing bias, prejudice, or discrimination based on their political beliefs, a full third of all employees under 45 say they have experienced it. The generational divide may be traced to how “psychologically safe” employees are feeling at work before political discussions happen.

“Psychological safety means having a workplace that is open to questions, mistakes, and most importantly, feeling safe expressing an opinion coworkers or leaders might not agree with,” said Perceptyx Director of Research and Insights, Emily Killham. “This is particularly critical for younger employees, where the relationship between psychological safety and willingness to share opinions is nearly twice as strong as it is for more senior workers. When you don’t feel like you’re in a safe environment, those political discussions feel a lot more dangerous.” 

Employees under 45 were much more likely than their over-45 colleagues to say that employees should be able to actively discuss their political opinions at work with some reasonable restrictions like foul language. A full 71% of under-35 workers and 69% age 35-45 workers said that would be fine – but only 53% of over-45 workers agreed. 

The fear of disagreeing with a manager keeps employees from feeling psychologically safe at work and able to express opinions. Younger workers are twice as likely to be concerned about how they might be treated if they disagree with a manager’s political opinions than those over age 45. They are 1.5x as likely to be concerned that discussing politics in the office would damage their career opportunities.

But the younger generation of workers is more vocal at work compared to their older counterparts. They are 1.5x as likely to have had at least one politics-related conflict at work in the past 3 months, and twice as likely to have had more than three conflicts. They prefer working in places where most people share their political beliefs – they are 1.5x as likely to think that’s important, 2x as likely to actively avoid working with certain people because of their politics, and 3x as likely to consider a job change if their coworkers don’t share their beliefs.

These findings mirror a previous study by Perceptyx about whether employees want their organizations to take public stands on controversial issues like the Dobbs abortion decision, which overturned Roe v. Wade. That survey showed that 6 in 10 younger, more progressive employees want their organizations to take a stand, compared to only about 1 in 6 older, more conservative employees. 

According to Killham, managers can do several things to create a psychologically safe environment where political beliefs might be freely shared. The survey found that employees who report being in psychologically safe workplaces also report greater satisfaction with organizational and manager responses to facilitating conflict resolution. 

To create psychologically safe environments organizations can: 

  • Encourage executive leadership to communicate that the organization values diverse perspectives. Make it clear, through internal communications channels, informal settings, and organizational actions, that the company values and respects all employees, including those that look, think, or behave differently from their co-workers.
  • Support your managers to create a culture of belonging – and that begins with respect. Employees whose managers treat them with respect are 6x more likely to be in a psychologically safe place than those who don’t have a respectful manager. 
  • Model, encourage, and support healthy conflicts about work matters. Employees who know they are safe to speak up about work matters without negative consequences are more likely to feel comfortable respectfully dissenting when the matter is personal, while still maintaining teamwork.

“Staying focused on creating psychologically safe workplaces is important all year round, not just at election time,” said Killham. “When employees feel safe, they are more likely to speak up, come up with a great idea that helps the business, or point out areas of the culture that could be improved. Organizations should never stop finding ways to maintain that sense of safety.”

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