As society surges forward, changing and progressing with the times, so do the smaller cultures within it. Certain aspects of what used to be proper office culture and etiquette are now seen as conservative and formal compared to the leniency of workplaces today. Dress codes, work hours, and even offices (for example, an increase in working remotely) have changed, but perhaps the most rapidly changing aspect of office culture has been the conversations between employees.
Openly talking about politics, religion, and one’s personal life used to be reserved for the comfort of one’s home – these topics were heavily avoided in the workplace. But do current employees still feel this way? We surveyed over 1,000 Americans about the most and least taboo work topics and compared these data across demographics. Keep reading to see if your discussions may be a little too heavy for the office.
Get Personal, But Not Too Personal
Talking to co-workers about personal health matters and family issues will typically land you in safe waters, but what about discussions related to your sex life or drug use? Steer clear. Seventy-one percent of Americans found the topic of one’s sex life to be the most inappropriate, followed closely by drug use. Luckily, according to our research, less than half of respondents reported partaking in these conversations.
On the other hand, gossiping about a co-worker was seen as inappropriate by 57 percent of participants, yet our survey found it was carried out by 60 percent. Finally, the most talked about taboo office topic was politics, despite normally being a no-go even in familial situations.
Age of Appropriateness
It’s no secret there are some major differences between generations, but how do they compare when it comes to opinions of appropriateness in the workplace? It turns out, millennials were the most lenient when it came to conversations they perceived as most inappropriate – millennials are 47 percent less likely than baby boomers and 40 percent less likely than Gen-Xers to consider discussing salary or income as the most inappropriate. While baby boomers were the most conservative overall, with the highest percentages in almost every topic, Gen Xers were the strictest about discussing politics, religion, and their sex lives.
As the largest generation, and 20 percent identifying as LGBTQ, Millennials have propelled discussions of gender identity and sexual orientation in recent years. Perhaps this may account for differing opinions between the generations when it comes to discussing controversial topics in the office. In fact, 41 percent of baby boomers thought discussing gender identity in the workplace was inappropriate, and 50 percent thought the same about sexual orientation. Forty-seven percent of baby boomers also thought race or ethnicity were inappropriate topics of conversation at work.
Just like many professions require various dress codes – from casual to business formal – some occupations may have several standards of tolerance when it comes to topics of office conversation. Finance and insurance employers were the least tolerant of taboo conversation topics, followed by employers in the education, arts and entertainment industries. The scientific industry, however, was the most lenient toward these controversial conversations, with 72 percent of respondents claiming their place of work tended to be OK about most of these topics. The hospitality industry wasn’t too far behind, though – 70 percent of participants reported their workplace to be pretty lenient.
Keeping It PC
Political correctness – some love it and some hate it, but no matter what side you’re on, there’s no debating it’s a hot topic. According to our data, 13 percent of Americans thought it was not important to keep office talk PC. But when respondents were separated by political affiliation, thoughts on political correctness were even more divisive. Fifty-two percent of Democrats thought political correctness in the office was very important. Republicans, on the other hand, were 107 percent more likely than Democrats to cite political correctness in the workplace as unimportant.
With politics being one of the hottest taboo office topics, we were interested to see how it affected workplace stress and hostility. When scrutinizing candidate support, a great disparity was evident between Clinton and Trump supporters. Trump supporters not only felt the workplace was less hostile than supporters of Hillary Clinton after the 2016 presidential election, but they are also 69 percent less likely than Clinton supporters to feel workplace stress has increased.
Talking about politics at work may affect stress levels, but that may only be when faced with opposing views. Seventy-nine percent of Republicans and 74 percent of Democrats would discuss politics at work if it were with a co-worker who shared their political views. But when it comes to talking politics with an opposing party, only 27 percent of Republicans and 21 percent of Democrats would dabble in that dialogue. Taking it a step further, 35 percent of Democrats and 33 percent of Republicans avoided a co-worker altogether for political reasons.
Socializing with co-workers is a beneficial and welcomed practice, but getting too personal can turn interactions from friendly conversation to inappropriate and uncomfortable confiding. To keep the workplace a safe space for yourself and your co-workers – no matter age, political affiliation, or profession – straying from talking about politics, sex, and religion is your best bet.
Sticking to certain topics isn’t the only way to feel safe at work, though. Making sure your employer or employees have proper insurance – health, life, or disability – available can also make the workplace more comfortable. At insuranceQuotes, we offer free business insurance quotes, expert advice, and tips and tricks on how to ensure you get the most out of your policy.
We surveyed 1,015 actively employed Americans from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. Fifty-four percent of participants were men, 46 percent were women, and 1 percent identified as a gender not listed in our study. Participants ranged in age from 18 to 74, with a mean of 36. Results that determined the most and least tolerant industries regarding taboo work topics were limited to industries with 25 or more respondents.
The data we are presenting rely on self-reporting. No statistical testing was performed, so the claims listed above are based on means alone. As such, this content is exploratory.
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