A new survey from Indeed finds political differences at work are threatening morale and would even push a third of workers to consider quitting. Here’s how to encourage inclusion and cohesion at a contentious time.

Key Takeaways

  • An Indeed-commissioned survey conducted in partnership with Harris Poll found that 32% of workers would consider resigning over political differences at work — and 36% might leave if the CEO expressed views they disagree with.
  • 56% of employees say they’re uncomfortable with political conversations in meetings, and 40% say politics is negatively affecting team morale.
  • With the U.S. presidential election causing tensions at work, employers must take extra steps to foster collaboration and inclusivity.

When the CEO of a major technology company voiced distaste for a political candidate during a company Q&A a few years ago, a group of employees with opposing viewpoints reminded their boss afterward that politics can get deeply personal.

“They said, ‘You’re making us feel uncomfortable,’” recalls Indeed Chief Marketing Officer Jessica Jensen, who watched the events unfold at a previous job. She took note as her then-CEO considered the criticism and vowed to stop electioneering on company time. “I admired that willingness to take feedback and change course,” she says. 

When political tensions rise, companies need to prioritize collaboration, inclusion and psychological safety — especially this year, amid a particularly contentious U.S. presidential election. That’s easier said than done in today’s fraught political environment.

In a new Harris Poll survey conducted in partnership with Indeed, 43% of U.S. workers say they’ve heard people talking about politics at work, making political conversations a fact of office life. Even so, 56% say they’re uncomfortable with political talk in meetings, a feeling more prevalent among women. Meanwhile, 36% say they would consider leaving their jobs if their CEO expressed political views they disagreed with, a figure that rises to 46% for younger workers, according to the Jan. 30 – Feb. 1 survey of 1,098 employed adults in the United States. Nearly one in five (18%) respondents admit to avoiding colleagues with different political beliefs. 

Amid the storms and stresses of an election year, here’s how leaders can communicate effectively and set guidelines so that political discourse doesn’t disrupt workplace harmony.

Indeed Chief Marketing Officer Jessica Jensen explains how leaders can set guidelines for both marketing communications and employees' internal conversations about politics.

Know Your Rights

Given how divisive politics can be, employers may want to put some limits on political discussions at work, and most are within their rights to do so.

In the U.S., “many workers assume free speech entitles them to say anything they want in the workplace, but that is not the case in the private sector. Employers can determine the boundaries for speech based on company values," says Mary-Frances Winters, CEO of The Winters Group and co-author of “We Can’t Talk About That at Work! How to Talk About Race, Religion, Politics, and Other Polarizing Topics.”

This chart shows how politics are straining relations between colleagues. 
Thirty-two percent of people say they would consider leaving a job because of political differences with others at work. This sentiment is more common among younger employees, with 41% of people ages 18 to 34 agreeing. For those 65 and up, the figure is only 13%. This sentiment is also more prevalent among Hispanic (39%) and Black (43%) workers compared to white employees (26%).
This Harris Poll survey, commissioned by Indeed, surveyed 1,098 employed adults ages 18 and up.

There are exceptions for types of speech that overlap with political topics, and some states have their own special protections. In Connecticut, for example, companies can’t discipline or dismiss employees for exercising their right to free speech. 

That said, all employers can outline their expectations for workplace behavior around politics, notably in the employee handbook or code of conduct. 

“The idea is to spell out, ‘in this workplace, we’re expecting people to be inclusive and to not engage in behavior that is harassing or bullying or that makes others feel excluded,’” says Alex King, Vice President of Legal at Indeed. Make sure policies apply to everyone regardless of political outlook so no one is discriminated against based on their views, she says. 

And consider emerging issues. As lines blur between work and home, someone taking a video call remotely might have a political campaign sticker or mug in the frame. In the Indeed survey, 18% of workers say they’ve seen support for a political party in the background of a videoconference. An employer might establish that “these are work-provided communication channels, and their purpose isn’t for divisive conversations or things that don’t add to the work environment,” King says. 

This chart shows that 40% of people say politics are affecting team morale at their jobs. Younger workers are more likely to have this viewpoint (47% of 18- to 44-year-olds feel this way versus just 28% of 55- to 64-year-olds).
To find these results, Harris Poll surveyed 1,098 employed adults in the United States.

Stick to Your Mission

Beyond setting expectations for how individual employees can talk about politics, your organization also needs to decide how and when the company and its leaders will weigh in on politics or related issues. 

Jensen’s recommendation: Avoid talking about specific candidates. But consider speaking out on issues connected to your company’s values — a big reason your employees joined your organization. 

At Indeed, “we do not take positions on individual candidates or political parties, but rather on issues we believe help or hinder people from having access to work,” Jensen says. 

This chart shows that employees care what their CEOs believe. 
36% of those surveyed say they would consider leaving their job if the CEO expressed political views they disagree with.
This sentiment is far more common among younger employees, with 46% of 18- to 34-year olds agreeing, versus 24% of people 65 and up. This is also more common among Black (51%) employees (51%) compared to Hispanic (39%) and white employees (30%).
The source is a Harris Poll survey of 1,098 employed adults in the United States.

For example, when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Jensen felt Indeed had to take a stand to honor and complement the company’s mission and values. Indeed’s mission is “We help people get jobs,” and one of its core values is inclusivity. 

“This means that, for us, supporting safe reproductive healthcare is essential to what we believe, what we do and what we want to achieve,” Jensen says. Women and people who can become pregnant fall out of the workforce when they don’t have access to abortion and other healthcare services, which directly goes against both Indeed’s mission and its commitment to inclusivity. 

“When a divisive topic comes up, we have a framework to determine if and how we engage,” Jensen says. “How does this relate to our mission? Does it help job seekers or hurt them? How do employees feel about this topic? Knowing how politics relates to your core business and values keeps you from being in reactive mode, which is never where a company wants to find itself.”  

This box shows a checklist of five things to consider before weighing in on a political, social or cultural event.
Does the event or issue and its effects:
—Align with or contradict your mission and values?
—Challenge your ability to do business?
—Impact your employees, including their ability to do work and lead healthy lives?
—Help or hurt your core users or customers?
—Affect communities where employees and loved ones live and work?

Vote for Empathy

In politically charged times, leading with emotional intelligence keeps teams happy and on task. Like the CEO who changed course after listening to employees, leaders must acknowledge that true diversity in the workplace means finding common ground with people who sometimes see the world and politics differently than you do.

“The opportunity is to turn conflict into connection,” says Rajkumari Neogy, an executive coach and speaker who frequently works with Indeed. 

“When we think about how teams interact with one another and how we collaborate, the question I always invite leaders to explore within themselves is, are you communicating to be right, or are you communicating to connect?” says Neogy, CEO at ibelong. “Be curious. Because when you can invite curiosity, you can open up dialogue and see each other as human.” 

This chart shows some more findings from the Harris Poll survey commissioned by Indeed. 
—56% of employees say they’re uncomfortable with politics discussed in meetings (and that’s 62% for women).
—63% prefer jobs at companies whose CEOs share their political views.
—45% say their corporate leadership is aligned with one political party.
—18% admit to avoiding colleagues with different political beliefs.

If tensions flare, employees look to leaders to hit reset, says Samantha Zupan, Group Vice President of Global Corporate Communications at Indeed. 

“If you’re the person in charge, it’s impossible to know all the ins and outs of every political issue around you,” Zupan says. “You could say something as simple as, ‘There’s a lot going on in the world right now. It’s probably weighing heavily on everybody at this point. I want to recognize that.’ Then help bring the team together on a shared mission and shared goals.” 

For more insights about politics in the workplace, see Glassdoor's report, "From Taboo to Team Talks: Political Conversations in a Changing Workplace."