Why did you want to investigate whether experiences at work have an effect on voting behavior?
'We see that trust in politics is declining. By no means everyone is voting. At the same time, we know that ways of working are changing. There are more temporary contracts, there is more uncertainty and unions are less powerful. Workers increasingly have to stand up for themselves. I wanted to know what effect such shifts in the workplace have on political behavior. Apart from that, work is just really important in your life. You work 8 hours a day, it provides an income, and it is part of your identity. So, your experiences at work influence the choices you make in the rest of your life.’
The assertiveness of employees plays a central role in the study. Why is that so important?
'In many ways, the workplace is also a political arena. You negotiate, defend your interests and compromise. You develop all those skills in interactions with colleagues and supervisors. Assertiveness in the workplace is a way of practicing politics. You build positive and negative experiences that way. Am I worth listening to? Are my problems taken seriously? The problems you encounter at work don’t stay in the workplace. I wanted to know if negative experiences also have an effect on trust in politics and voting behavior.’
We see a relationship between people feeling unheard in the workplace and populist voting
And what did you find?
'We see a relationship between people feeling unheard in the workplace and populist voting. If an employee's problems are not taken seriously, a black-and-white image of a bad, authoritarian boss versus an oppressed employee can emerge. That mindset seems to carry over into voting behavior: those in power are corrupt and evil and the good, pure citizens are oppressed. We clearly see that unheard workers are more likely to distrust the authorities.'
What could be done in law and regulation with these outcomes?
'Our research shows that people with greater job insecurity are less empowered, and that those experiences of empowerment influence voting behavior. So the way we organize work has broader implications for our society. Regulation could respond to that. For example, we know that vulnerable groups of people are more likely to have temporary contracts. The situation is not that bad with the current shortage in the labor market, but if we are not careful a new, vulnerable, and angry group will emerge. We see that the highly educated also increasingly have temporary contracts.'
Is it the responsibility of companies or politicians to ensure satisfied employees?
'You cannot assume that an employer feels responsible and hold them accountable for employee voting behavior. Rather, I see a task here for legislators and social partners. If we want people to feel heard, it is important to offer workers security with permanent contracts. An unlimited freedom of employers to use flex contracts does not contribute to this.'
What are the take aways for managers who want to get it right?
'It is good to know that the negative effect of not listening is much greater than the positive effect of listening. So you can do a lot of damage by not listening. That's not to say that you have to honor every question from an employee; the important thing is that a question or problem gets a serious response. A "no" can be quite a disappointment, but a good explanation often helps with acceptance. If an employee is ignored or not taken seriously, that creates an additional problem on top of the one that already exists - and that dissatisfaction seeps into the voting booth.’