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It’s official. Politics is distracting us at work

Sam Harnett Mar 6, 2017
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“We found that 87 percent of employees are reading political social media posts during the workday,” said Kris Duggan, CEO of BetterWorks.
ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty Images

You might have noticed that you or your co-workers are spending more time on the job talking or reading about politics. Maybe you’re skimming news headlines, debating with colleagues or posting on social media. It’s not your imagination. Politics has become a major topic in the workplace.

Kris Duggan said he has never seen his employees so preoccupied with the news. Duggan is the CEO of a BetterWorks, which develops software to manage employee performance.

“This is a whole new world of distraction,” he said, referring to the presidential election and just about everything since.

Duggan said instead of recharging on the weekends, employees are reading news or perhaps protesting. At work, they are posting on social media and debating with colleagues. To quantify the distraction, Duggan commissioned Wakefield Research to do a national survey.

“The results were shocking,” Duggan said, “We found that 87 percent of employees are reading political social media posts during the workday.”

The survey, which has a margin of error of 4.5 percent, included people from across the political spectrum. Other findings: Workers were spending an average of two hours a day reading or talking about politics on the job. For some workers it is three or four hours each day.

Nathan Richter, who conducted the survey, said what’s most surprising is the change in corporate culture. People are now talking politics at work, and not just with colleagues.

“Nearly a third have talked to a client or a customer about [politics],” Richter said. “More than a third have talked to a boss or manager about it. That’s insanity.”

And for some workers, politics is more than just a distraction.

Amanda Delzell is an employee at BetterWorks. She said she has been sucked into toxic arguments on social media and that those arguments are bringing back the anxiety she said she conquered years ago in therapy.

“I was experiencing anxiety attack symptoms again,” she said. 

Delzell’s co-worker, Christine Nguyen Vaeth, says she’s losing sleep to read the news. “I’ll typically be awake at 3 or 4 in the morning catching up on these articles.” Nguyen Vaeth believes its our responsibility as citizens to be informed.

As a boss, Andy Ruben believes he needs to give his employees some leeway to be distracted. Ruben is CEO of Yerdle, another Bay Area tech company.

“Clamping down and trying to deny people the way that they’re feeling outside of work would be counterproductive to what my goals are, which is a productive workplace.”

Ruben said workers need to have some space on the job to talk about what’s on their minds. And right now he said, there is a lot on their minds.

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