The singer, who previously kept her political views under wraps for undisclosed reasons (which some attributed as business savviness), decided to speak out on politics, from LGBTQ+ rights to systemic racism, on her Instagram page. "In the past I’ve been reluctant to publicly voice my political opinions, but due to several events in my life and in the world in the past two years, I feel very differently about that now," the pop star wrote. In her post, the star laid to rest all speculation about her political leanings, and broke a few Alt-Right hearts (white supremacists have long worshipped Swift as an "Aryan goddess") in the process.
These days, political tensions are higher than usual, with current events — from Kavanaugh to climate change — shaking so many Americans to their core as we hurl towards a pivotal midterm election. And, witnessing Swift’s abrupt decision to speak out (to 112 million followers, no less) about politics despite clear professional implications and blowback begs an important 2018 question: Should we be more open about politics at work?
Political openness at work has long been a contentious topic of conversation. And despite some legalities around this openness, generally political speech in the workplace is more uncomfortable than it is illegal. A recent survey by BetterWorks found that political discussions in the Trump era have reduced worker productivity and even sparked arguments at work. Another survey by the American Psychological Association found that more workers than ever are feeling burdened or strained because of political conversations in the workplace. No matter how you look at it, politics have been creeping into office spaces and it’s unlikely that these conversations will cease anytime soon.
Workplace expert Lindsey Pollak acknowledges that these are trying times, especially when it comes to breaching political conversations at work. “This is challenging,” Pollak said. “These are really fraught, complicated, and upsetting times.” Regardless of one’s leanings, many people are striving to be politically accountable in a time of rampant injustice without negatively affecting their professional standing while others believe that offices should be siphoned off from political conversation.
For those of us without the financial and social privileges of pop-stardom, Pollak recommends keeping three things in mind when deciding whether or not to spark a conversation about politics at work: workplace environment, audience, and one’s own needs. While some workplaces are formal, others are really open, and realizing these differences is key, Pollak said. Further, when engaging particular individuals, Pollak recommends taking a moment to reflect on whether or not one is already familiar with the other person's views and feels comfortable — and safe — enough to begin a conversation.
Pollak emphasizes the fact that there are consequences for every action and that individuals must acknowledge what the potential risks of political openness might be. Beyond this, Pollak believes that the best way to breach political conversations is simple, but often overlooked: ask first. “There are phrases you can use like 'I’m really having strong feelings about what’s going on politically right now, are you comfortable if I talk about that?’” Pollak said, noting that giving people the right to say yes or no is a crucial way to ensure that a conversation is productive and healthy.
Lastly, Pollak recommends keeping self care in mind. “If this is a very personal issue for you, that adds another level to think about,” Pollak said, noting that one has to decide whether a conversation is best had with a colleague or a professional outside of work. "Ask people’s permission, gauge their comfort level, [and] be empathetic to the variety of reasons that somebody might not want to talk about politics.”
Though there is no clear-cut strategy for reconciling political accountability with professionalism, it’s clear that this balancing act is one that many Americans are currently grappling with. The reactions to Swift's candor have reminded us, once again, of the magnitudinous political divisiveness currently plaguing this country. But Swift's frankness has also highlighted that many feel compelled to eventually take a political stand — even if it means facing consequences.
That's the catch: Speaking up isn't without cost. The knee-jerk reaction from the right to Swift's sudden support of two Democrats will have some negative impacts on Swift's career, but it's unlikely that the star didn't consider these implications before speaking out. Swift may have felt a responsibility, as a public figure, to speak out at a time of immense political division, knowing full well that she could play a role in mobilizing voters (at time of writing, there was already a spike in voter registrations following Swift's post).
Of course, it's up to individuals to decide whether they want to speak out on politics in a professional setting. But given the political polarization —and the urgent need for empathy and discussion in our country — what could be better than finding a way to do that productively at a place where you spend 9 hours a day?