What do job seekers think of your organisation's political position?

UNSW Business School research has found roughly a third of job seekers will not apply to a firm because of its political views

US politics has become a tinderbox of division in recent years. Lines of ardent support or bitter criticism of political parties, leaders and related social issues came into sharp focus, as unprecedented numbers of Americans took to the streets, social media and voting booths to express their views. Corporates in the US are often more active in politics and social issues than their overseas counterparts, and many business leaders were also involved in campaigning for and against political parties and issues.

This can be a two-edged sword for organisations when it comes to recruitment and attracting talented candidates, according to new research from UNSW Business School. The paper, Organizational political affiliation and job seekers: If I don’t identify with your party, am I still attracted? details the findings of four studies which examine how job seekers view organisations that openly declare their political affiliations. 

“Organisational political affiliation does have an impact on job seekers’ attitudes towards organisations, as well as candidates’ intention to seek employment with organisations. This can influence the amount and the types of potential employees the organisations attract,” said Liwen Zhang, Assistant Professor in the School of Management & Governance at UNSW Business School, who co-authored the paper together with a number of academics including lead author Professor Philip Roth from Clemson University.

Roughly one-third of candidates do not apply to a firm because of its politics-min.jpg
An organisation’s political affiliation is important to job seekers and roughly one-third of candidates do not apply to a firm because of its politics. Image: Shutterstock

How political positions affect employment brands

The first two studies found that many job seekers are aware of organisations’ political affiliations or stances, and job seekers considered organisations’ political positions during their job searches. Dr Zhang explained job seekers tended to think organisations could be affiliated with political parties, and also noted this practice is increasing. “Further, many participants indicated that an organisation’s political affiliation is important to them. In fact, roughly one-third of participants reported they did not apply to a firm because of its politics,” she said.

In the second study, a substantial number of job seeker participants were at least moderately aware of the political affiliation of organisations to which they recently applied, and many correctly identified the political affiliation of six large corporations.

The third study examined the extent to which job seekers identify with the political party organisations are affiliated with through measuring their reactions to organisations’ political donations, and their subsequent intentions to pursue employment with the organisation.

The fourth study focused more on related political issues (such as gun control and second amendment) and found that when job applicants share similar views to an organisation’s political issues, they like those organisations more.

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A reduction in the number of job applicants could reduce diversity within an organisation, which could impact creativity and performance. Image: Shutterstock

Political positions are a two-edged talent sword

Taken together, the study found organisations’ affiliations with political parties or their stances on political issues can influence the amount and types of potential employees that organisations attract. Dr Zhang explained that “like attracts like” essentially, and this is consistent with many existing talent attraction and attrition models which have found employees will stay with an organisation longer if they perceive it is more like them.

“Affiliating with a particular political party or taking stances on political issues will ‘turn off’ some applicants. A CEO might want to publicise or tweet their political views for the purposes of appealing to potential customers, for example,” said Dr Zhang.

“However, this might reduce the diversity of job applicants from a selection perspective, because people with different political views will not apply for the jobs there. When you have reduced diversity among employees, you might get less new ideas. You might experience difficulties in being creative. And that will potentially harm organisation performance in the long-term.”

CEOs might want to publicise or tweet their political views for the purposes of appealing to potential customers-min.jpg
CEOs might want to publicise or tweet their political views for the purposes of appealing to potential customers. Image: Shutterstock

Instead, Dr Zhang suggested there could be some potential benefits to an organisation’s political affiliation. “CEOs and others might focus on positive aspects of their organisational political activity, and and this can reduce some of those negative reactions from job seekers and others,” she said.

“Also, if job seekers self-select into organisations that share their political views, organizations might become homogeneous in such areas. This could increase cohesion, reduce conflict and reduce turnover,” said Dr Zhang, who explained it is important to take a balanced perspective: “every organisation is different and obviously they may want to promote certain views, but they do need to be mindful of potential consequences if they share those views.”

Dr Liwen Zhang is a lecturer in the School of Management & Governance at UNSW Business School. Her research focuses on three main areas: organisational staffing, leadership, and human capital resources and her work has been published in journals including Journal of Applied Psychology, Human Resources Management Review, and Personnel Review. For more information please contact Dr Zhang directly.


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