Oct 13, 2020 - Economy

The debate over talking politics at work

Illustration of water cooler with “I voted” stickers

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The virtual office water cooler is the new Thanksgiving dinner table.

The big picture: There's a brewing debate over whether politics belongs at work — and while most Americans think it doesn't, per a new Harris Poll survey shared with Axios, they also think companies shouldn't back down from speaking out on social justice issues.

Driving the news: The cryptocurrency company Coinbase made headlines when CEO Brian Armstrong said the firm would bar political activism at work. "We don’t engage here when issues are unrelated to our core mission, because we believe impact only comes with focus," he wrote in a Medium post.

  • The move garnered mixed reviews, with some calling it a smart corporate move and others saying it crystallized the problems with Silicon Valley's culture.
  • Around 5% of Coinbase's workforce has already quit, accepting a severance package the company offered to workers who wanted to leave over the policy. And Armstrong expects more to follow.

But Coinbase might have picked up on a common sentiment.

  • According to the Harris Poll survey, 70% of Americans would support companywide policies that limit the discussion of politics in the workplace or with colleagues.
  • And even just among millennials — who are often cited as the most socially conscious employees — 67% would support such policies.
  • The problem may be one of feeling safe enough to talk politics at work: 32% of those surveyed say they don't feel comfortable expressing their political leanings in the office.

But, but, but: Even if Americans don't think political conversations should be had at work, they do believe their employers should speak up.

Go deeper with Wired's excellent dive into the turmoil at Coinbase.

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