The Need for Psychological Safety When Discussing Politics at Work
Psychological safety in the workplace is defined as having the right people involved in the right decisions and having a workplace that’s open to questions, mistakes, and most importantly, questioning ideas or concepts about which employees might disagree. We already know psychological safety has benefits for innovation, well-being, and belonging, but new research from Perceptyx shows that creating an environment in which it's healthy to have disagreements can prove beneficial during election season as well.
Talking Politics in the Workplace: What the Research Tells Us
In general, our research found that employees are split about whether political beliefs should be fair game in workplace conversations. One-third say these discussions shouldn’t be allowed, one-third are fine with such discussions as long as there is no foul language or other workplace-inappropriate words coarsening the discourse, and one-third place themselves somewhere in the middle, willing to tolerate political talk with some restrictions in place.
As we dig deeper, we find that these views vary considerably by age. Nearly half (47%) of workers over 45 want to halt all discussion of politics, while only 3 in 10 (29%) of workers under 35 and between 35-45 (31%) feel the same way.
Fostering deep levels of psychological safety is even more important for younger workers, who express the most concern about the possible negative consequences of expressing their 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 also 1.5x as likely to be concerned that discussing politics in the office would damage their future career opportunities.
Younger Workers Want to Talk Politics
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.
Political Talk: Best Practices for Managers
Managers can do several things to create a psychologically safe environment where respectful discussions of politics can occur without disrupting the flow of work. Our research found that employees who report being in psychologically safe workplaces also report a greater incidence of conflict resolution and return to “business as usual” after a conflict faster than those where there is greater fear of expressing opinions. These same employees indicate greater satisfaction with organizational and manager responses to conflict resolution, indicating that they have better tools to facilitate such discussions.
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, most importantly, organizational actions that the company values and respects all employees, including those who look, think, or behave differently from their co-workers.
- Encourage your managers to create a culture of belonging — and that culture starts with respect. Employees whose managers treat them with respect are six times more likely to be in a psychologically safe workplace 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. When employees feel safe, they are more likely to report ethical or safety issues, 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.
An Insights-Driven Approach to Psychological Safety
Fostering a sense of belonging and psychological safety in your organization will enable your employees to work together to overcome even the stiffest challenges.
To learn more about how Perceptyx can support an environment of psychological safety in your organization, please schedule a meeting with a member of our team.