Shortly after the election, I noticed an increase in political talk at BetterWorks. Meetings began with quick discussions about politics instead of the weather, and on Facebook, employees were sharing photos of their participation in rallies or polarizing news articles in place of endearing and relaxing cat GIFs. I was worried that this environment might be affecting employee focus and productivity.
I wanted to be sure I wasn’t just imagining things, so I began quick-polling employees and organizational leaders that we work with. Sure enough, if you’re feeling distracted by the current political happenings, you’re not alone.
Last week, we took it one step further and commissioned a survey with Wakefield Research to measure the correlation between our current state of political distraction and productivity. Turns out, workers aren’t just reading and talking about politics. They’re actually feeling distracted from their work, and dedicate much of their time (both at work and at home) to thinking about and processing the current political situation.
Our survey of 500 U.S. adults employed full time found that:
- 87% of employees are reading political social media posts during the work day.
- We read an average of 14 political posts per work day, but that number goes up to 18 for millennials. 21% say they read 20 or more. This equates to an average of 2 hours per day reading political social posts.
- 73% have talked with their colleagues about politics with their colleagues since the election, and 37% have talked politics with their boss or manager.
- 49% of people have witnessed a political conversation actually turn into an argument at work, and that number goes up to 63% for millennials.
- 29% of workers say they are less productive since the election, and that number increases to 35% among those who read 10 or more political social media posts per work day
- 20% of the U.S. workforce (and 34% of millennials) say they’ve participated in a rally or march since the election.
The onslaught of news articles and social media posts aren’t going away anytime soon. It’s time for organizational leaders to shift their focus to empowering managers to deal with distraction. Here are five ways managers can help keep productivity levels high, even in the face of major distraction and even stress:
Don’t micromanage. Now is not the time to get nitpicky about how much time employees spend checking their social networks. Remember, even before the election, most workers were checking their social media pages too. Cut employees some slack and give them space to stay informed in light of recent political news.
Stick to your goals. If your employees have set quarterly or annual goals, now is not the time to deviate. If it feels as though the first few months of 2017 have taken a slow start due to distraction, goals can be a common ground between managers and employees. Managers should work with employees to set goals that align with the company’s long-term strategy. Goals adds focus amidst the distraction and helps employees get their work done.
Encourage work-life integration. Following the election, it’s important to recognize that true work-life integration means employees will bring their personal life, including sharing their political beliefs, to work too. As a manager, do your best to accommodate the continuum of work-life integration by giving employees space to read up on news that matters to them and talk with their colleagues about political news. Do your best to ensure they aren’t too overwhelmed with work so they can truly disconnect on the weekends.
Don’t argue with employees. As the survey revealed, 49% of people have witnessed a political conversation actually turn into an argument at work. If you ever have the urge to argue with an employee, especially one you manage, change the subject before it takes a negative toll on your relationship with the employee. While there is a time and place for political discussion, arguments can lead to a breach in trust in the manager-employee relationship.
Unite over work. You are not always going to agree with the political stance of your employees, but as a manager, it’s your job to give employees the means to stay focused and productive. When employees have the means to stay focused on work, it can actually feel like a respite. Find common ground in your overlapping work and focus your attention on meeting your work goals.
At BetterWorks, there are a multitude of different political perspectives among our employees—it’s part of what makes our team so unique. When you have such a diverse group of individuals, it’s important not to squash your employees’ desires to share what they believe in. At the same time, remember to focus on empowering managers to help employees meet their goals and perform at their very best.