Office Taboos; Four Out of Ten Americans Talk About Politics and Religion at Work

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According to a new poll by Workplace Options, workers cite job-related problems as the leading cause of workplace conflict.

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When you have different people working together, personality clashes are bound to happen. The best way to avoid having those situations turn into bigger problems is to teach employees effective communication.

Politics, religion and race. These topics are often considered taboo in the workplace, ones that should be avoided if employees want to keep the peace. According to a new poll commissioned by Workplace Options, however, four out of ten Americans discuss politics and religion with co-workers, and most say that job-related problems are the biggest source of workplace conflict.

Just 17 percent of respondents ranked politics as the leading cause of workplace conflict, followed by religion (9 percent) and race (7 percent). Work problems ranked highest: 52 percent of those surveyed said job-related issues cause the most conflict in the office.

“There is an idea that politics and religion are best kept out of the workplace, and that’s still good advice to follow,” said Dean Debnam, chief executive officer of Workplace Options. “However, poll results show that while these topics may not be politically correct, it’s important that companies don’t lose sight of the main cause of conflict, which starts with work-related issues.”

Poll results showed:

  •     43 percent of respondents talk about politics at work
  •     44 percent talk with co-workers about religion
  •     37 percent have discussions about race
  •     Eight out of ten (84 percent) talk with co-workers about job-related problems

Of those surveyed, 65 percent said they have had a workplace conflict. Personality clashes were the number one cause of conflict for respondents, with 56 percent citing them as the source. The second-largest source of conflict, with 52 percent of workers, was poor communication.

“When you have different people working together, personality clashes are bound to happen,” added Debnam. “The best way to avoid having those situations turn into bigger problems is to teach employees effective communication, which coincidentally addresses another issue identified in this poll.”

Communication is Key

A surprising 35 percent of respondents said that their employers do not have a formal complaint process in the event of a conflict with a co-worker. One in three (38 percent) said that they went directly to their supervisor when faced with a conflict while another third (34 percent) confronted the person with whom they had a conflict directly.

“It’s great that employees feel empowered or comfortable enough to handle conflict on their own,” said Debnam. “But again, it’s best if employers have policies and guidelines in place so that these issues can be handled in the best way possible, through effective communication.”

The national survey was conducted by the North Carolina firm of Public Policy Polling, August 9-12, 2013. The survey polled 427 working Americans and has a margin of error of +/- 4.3%. View complete poll results HERE.

About Workplace Options

Workplace Options helps employees balance their work, family and personal life in order to make their lives healthier, easier and more productive. The company’s world-class employee support and work-life services provide information, resources, referrals and consultation on a variety of issues ranging from dependent care, legal and financial issues to stress management and wellness.

Drawing from an international network of credentialed providers and professionals, Workplace Options is the world’s largest integrated employee support services and work-life provider. Service centers in Raleigh, N.C., London, Toronto, Dublin, Singapore, Panama and Tokyo support more than 40 million employees in over 30,000 organizations, across more than 200 countries and territories. To learn more, visit

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Alexis Hourselt
Workplace Options
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