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UK professionals divided on political conversations at work

Half of UK professionals (53%) feel that respectful socio-political discourse in the workplace should be encouraged, while 45% disagree, according to a study by HR software provider HiBob.

The study also found 62% of people say that socio-political topics need to be discussed in a safe space and include voicing opposing opinions respectfully.

More than half (53%) said that if a company opposed their political stance it would deter them from accepting an offer to work there, whereas 27% stated that a company’s opposing political stance would prompt them to leave where they were currently working. 

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Ronni Zehavi, CEO of HiBob, said attitudes towards political discussion are shifting, especially across younger generations.

Speaking to HR magazine, he said: “In the past, many employees kept their personal and political opinions to themselves, but this attitude is fading away as we enter a new era of open dialogue within the workplace, especially for the younger generations, who of course make up an increasing percentage of the workforce.” 

The study found 38% felt sharing their opinions with their manager could harm their job and relationships.

Zehavi said: “Companies need to establish safe spaces and clear freedoms to enable employees to express their perspectives without fear of consequences. It’s important to create a workplace where people feel comfortable participating in respectful debates. 

“By embracing this shift in attitude, companies can foster a culture of inclusivity and diversity, where employees' voices are valued, leading to a more informed and progressive workforce.” 

Binna Kandola, senior partner of Pearn Kandola, said it is important to keep conversations focused on specific issues rather than divisive party politics.

“Political discussions in general can cause tension between individuals. It has been found that peoples’ perception of manifesto commitments vary according to the party proposing them," he said.

“In other words, if the commitment comes from a party that the individual supports, they are more likely to have a favourable opinion of it, but if a different political party has suggested that they are more likely to be against it.

“We can have discussions about specific topics without it necessarily becoming an issue about our political allegiances.”

Almost six in 10 (59%) said political conversations should not be on digital communication Slack, Teams or email.

Toby Mildon, founder of diversity, equity and inclusion consultancy Mildon, said employers need to set specific policies around political conversations.

Speaking to HR magazine, he said: “It begins with the establishment of a 'Respect at Work' policy, defining the expectations of respectful behaviour and detailing how conflicts will be resolved promptly.

“Leadership must lead by example, fostering empathy and vulnerability as essential qualities, creating a psychologically safe culture built on trust and healthy conflict. Training and preparing for various political events and debates, from general elections to contentious issues like immigration or Brexit, is crucial.”

In January 2023, HiBob’s research department surveyed 2,000 professionals in the UK.