Managers in many workplaces, watching their employees distracted by the political tensions of the 2016 campaign, probably thought they'd breathe a sigh of relief once the brutal and divisive election came to a close. People would refocus on their jobs, divisions between workers would quiet down, and the news cycle would settle into a manageable pace that didn't fill employees' desktop screens and mobile phones with the latest social media outrage every few minutes.
But nearly three months later, many are still holding their breath. Instead, human resources consultants say, the onslaught of headlines, tweets and executive orders that have characterized President Trump's chaotic first two weeks have kept politics center stage in many workplaces. As employees -- supporters or detractors -- digest the latest Trump tweet or the world responds to the newest controversial order from the president, the intensely active and rapid-fire style of Trump's first few days has become a constant and, some say, distracting workplace presence.
One human resources consultant compared the deluge of headlines and the constant access many workers have to social media, news alerts and confirmation hearing videos on their screens to the distractions that sporting events like March Madness can bring to working hours.
"People are riveted," says Jeanne Meister, a consultant who works with human resources managers from Fortune 500 companies. "But unlike March Madness, this affects our lives. This affects our children's lives." She says some clients have observed "their employees are being engulfed in it. They thought it would stop with the election. But people are still obsessed and talking about it and getting upset about it."
The turbulent days following Trump's inauguration -- which played out on screens across workers' computers on a Friday -- have included executive orders or memorandums about border walls, government hiring freezes and withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Controversy after controversy has erupted from the president's Twitter feed, from an obsession over crowd size at his inauguration to claims of massive voter fraud, made without any evidence. A temporary ban issued Friday on the entry of visitors, migrants and refugees from seven predominantly Muslim countries resulted in a weekend of massive protests and confusion at the country's airports; by Monday morning many tech workers woke up to their bosses issuing statements to reassure workers of their commitment to diversity or to outright oppose the ban.
While the level of anxiety, applause or simple pass-the-popcorn preoccupation depends widely on the type of workplace -- blue collar or professional, right- or left- leaning, made up of desk jockeys or assembly line workers -- many human resources consultants say the flood of change and news is taking up much more of workers' energy and focus than in past presidential transitions.
Michael Letizia, a human resources consultant in Stockton, Calif., said that after Trump was inaugurated, "I've had way more calls from my clients about what to do about cellphones in the workplace. There’s so much happening so quickly, and these alerts and tweets are coming out four, five, even six times a day."
Letizia said a hospital client recently added a television tuned to CNN in a break room so employees can "feel they have access to what's happening."
Following the travel ban, some companies publicly acknowledged the unease employees were feeling. In a letter to workers Sunday, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz wrote "I am hearing the alarm you all are sounding that the civility and human rights we have all taken for granted for so long are under attack," while Tim Ryan, U.S. chairman of PwC, wrote that some employees "have also written simply to share their fear, concern and desire to help those who need help."
Technology workplaces, in particular, have been focused on the travel ban. Aaron Levie, CEO of Redwood City, Calif.-based Box, who has spoken out against the ban, told The Post in an interview that "this is an active and ongoing issue. This is a major topic of discussion in our office."
An official with another major technology firm, who requested anonymity to speak candidly, said that on Monday, "productivity was next to zero" following Trump's travel order. "People are not just concerned about the future of their jobs. They're concerned about the future of their country. It's a very difficult environment under which you're expected to produce creative and innovative ideas. It is a constant, constant topic."
Some employers say their workers are paying heavy attention to the onslaught, and that it isn't helping the mood, even if they aren't seeing signs that it's hurting productivity, yet. Adam Ochstein, CEO of StratEx, a software company in Chicago, says most of his employees -- many of which are younger and lean Democratic -- have two monitors at their desktop. He often sees one of them tuned to CNN or Cabinet hearings.
"I don't know if it's the fact that Chicago has had a nine-day streak with no sun," he said Wednesday, "or if we've got tired folks staring at Twitter and CNN. But there seems to be a mood and a sentiment that's grayer, and heavier."
Others agree they're not seeing productivity take a hit, but that employees are paying more attention to the news at work.
"No matter what you believe or where you are on the side of politics, people seem to be watching the news more, watching the headlines," said Desiree Fish, who heads communications for TripAdvisor in Needham, Mass., whose CEO also condemned Trump's travel ban. "It's almost like every day they wake up to say 'what's happening today?' "
The political obsession is not just a blue-state phenomenon. Clinton Bradley, who runs a recruiting and H.R. consultancy in Kansas City, said he continues to get requests for training to manage employees' political differences, as well as questions about how to address workers constantly checking their phones for social media updates, even in manufacturing settings. "They see them posting political comments when they're supposed to be working," he said.
Amy Baxter, a pediatrician and the founder of a small medical device firm in Atlanta, said she has been steering clear of the news during the workday "because it's anxiety-provoking," but she still gets articles emailed to her or alerts that pop up during the day.
"There is this ADHD distraction with the most recent egregious thing," said Baxter, a Hillary Clinton supporter who says she is concerned about issues including ethical questions surrounding Trump and how trade deals might affect her business. "You're like, 'what's burning now?' "
Ben Dattner, an organizational psychologist based in New York, says the traditional advice he gives leaders during times of change or crisis isn't possible right now.
"One of the particularly stressful things I'm finding in the workplaces I'm consulting is the challenge of separating fact from speculation," he says. His typical advice at a time of great change, he says, is to have leaders say "here's what we know, here's what we don't know." But "in the current situation, it's hard to say that."
Phyllis Hartman, an H.R. consultant near Pittsburgh, says her clients haven't been calling her with distraction issues. But she has heard recent complaints in diversity classes she leads about people making snide political comments. And when she shows a graphic in those classes of the things that make workers different -- race, education, beliefs, values -- she's noticed that "very often in these classes someone says 'you're missing something on that picture. Where's politics?' "
In New Castle, Del., Joanne Lee, vice president of human resources at beverage distributor N.K.S. Distributors, says workers at her 130-person company are split down the middle, politically. She hasn't noticed much distraction or loss of productivity in recent weeks, but says people are in a wait-and-see mode.
"I think people are just sitting on the edge of their seat, hoping it doesn't cause a big disruption," she says. "There was a lot of chatter before the election. Now I think people just want peace."
-- Hayley Tsukayama contributed to this article.