What Happens to Employees Who Overhear Political Discussions?

Topic(s): Uncategorized
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Hidden Consequences of Political Discourse at Work: How and Why Ambient Political Conversations Impact Employee Outcomes
Authors: C.C. Rosen, J. Koopman, A.S. Gabriel, Y.E. Lee, M. Ezerins, P.L. Roth
Reviewed by: Katherine Facteau

There is no question that the United States today has become a politically charged environment, extending even into the workplace. Indeed, research finds that political orientation can affect work outcomes such as selection and hiring. Politically charged discussions at work are also common. However, little research has explored how these political conversations affect not only those engaging in them, but those who overhear them. New research (Rosen et al., 2024) examines how these ambient political conversations may impact employee stress responses and ultimately job satisfaction and goal progress.


The researchers conducted three studies to examine why and for whom overhearing political conversations can lead to negative outcomes. In Study 1, participants were asked to think about a time when they overheard a conversation between coworkers. Results indicated that employees who recalled political conversations (versus other conversations) displayed heightened negative emotions.

Next, the researchers conducted a three-week-long study where employees were surveyed three times a day. The study took place around the 2018 midterm election. This time, they found that when employees overheard a political conversation from a coworker whom they felt dissimilar to, they experienced negative emotions and ultimately lower job satisfaction and goal progress. Finally, the researchers examined how the content of the conversations may have played a role. The researchers found that when participants disagreed with the content of the political discussion, they experienced more negative emotions when they also felt dissimilar to the discussant.


In the workplace, employees should be aware of how their conversations may affect those who are within earshot. From an organizational standpoint, interventions that focus on how to manage emotional responses may be beneficial. Further, managers could help employees find common ground with each other to increase similarity, as the most detrimental outcomes were for coworkers who felt dissimilar to each other. Finally, employees could be encouraged to minimize divisive political discussion and instead stick to neutral topics that are less likely to elicit strong opinions.


Rosen, C. C., Koopman, J., Gabriel, A. S., Lee, Y. E., Ezerins, M., & Roth, P. L. (2024). Hidden consequences of political discourse at work: How and why ambient political conversations impact employee outcomes. Journal of Applied Psychology, 109(6), 795–810.

Image credit: Unsplash+