Taboo Conversations: The Benefits of Discussing Political and Social Issues At Work

Shot of a multi-ethnic group of business people having a meeting in a modern office.
VioletaStoimenova / Getty Images

The pandemic has created an entirely new workplace landscape — most notably reflected by the ongoing Great Resignation. But a new phenomenon has also recently emerged, the increase in conversations about politics and social issues at work, according to a new survey.

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The PwC “Global Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey 2022,” released May 24, found that 65% of workers discuss social and political issues with colleagues frequently or sometimes, with the number higher for younger workers (69%) and ethnic minorities (73%).

As companies operate in an increasingly polarized world, where political and social issues hold intense power over people, some managers may fear that discussing these topics in the workplace could create a minefield, but the survey found that the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.

“Among respondents who have political and social conversations at work, the positives — a better understanding of colleagues, a more open and inclusive work environment, and increased empathy — outweigh the negatives,” according to PwC.

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In fact, 79% of respondents who talk about social and political issues at work reported at least one positive consequence from that. These include 41% said that it allowed them to understand a colleague better; 34% said it created a more open and inclusive work environment; 31% say it made them more confident to share their views; and 28% said it increased their empathy.

On the other hand, 41% of respondents reported at least one negative consequence, including 13% saying it made it more difficult to work with people who share different views and 11% said it decreased their productivity.

Employees who identified as ethnic minorities were more likely than other respondents to say that these experiences have had a positive impact. At the same time, minorities were also more likely to cite at least one negative impact, suggesting that the overall effect of these conversations, both good and bad, is more intense for these employees, the survey notes.

Another interesting finding was that only 30% of employees said their company provides support to help them work effectively with people who share different views, which PwC deems “a missed opportunity, given the importance of empathy and openness in building trust.”

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“Diverse workforces will inevitably bring differences of opinion about major societal issues into their workplaces,” Bhushan Sethi, Co-Leader of PwC’s Global People and Organization services, said in a press release about the survey. “Leaders need to ensure these discussions can benefit teams rather than dividing them.”

He continued, “The role of employers isn’t to tell workers what to think, but to give them a voice, choice and safe environment to share feelings, listen and learn about how these issues are impacting their colleagues.  Workers, especially younger and ethnic minorities feel the benefits of engaging in respectful and tolerant conversations.”

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About the Author

Yaël Bizouati-Kennedy is a full-time financial journalist and has written for several publications, including Dow Jones, The Financial Times Group, Bloomberg and Business Insider. She also worked as a vice president/senior content writer for major NYC-based financial companies, including New York Life and MSCI. Yaël is now freelancing and most recently, she co-authored  the book “Blockchain for Medical Research: Accelerating Trust in Healthcare,” with Dr. Sean Manion. (CRC Press, April 2020) She holds two master’s degrees, including one in Journalism from New York University and one in Russian Studies from Université Toulouse-Jean Jaurès, France.
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