If it feels like all everyone at work is doing is talking about politics and refreshing Twitter for the latest inflammatory tweet from President Trump, it may be because some of them are.
While every workplace is different, a new survey commissioned by BetterWorks, a Redwood City, Calif.-based software company, offers a snapshot of the split-screen workday many Americans have experienced since the election and during the chaotic first two weeks of Trump's presidency. It found employees reporting plenty of social media distractions, political discussions that have escalated into arguments, and even hours spent reading posts about politics while they're at work.
The recent online survey of of 500 full-time employed Americans finds that workers report spending an average of two hours per day reading political social media posts. They reported reading an average of 14 political social media posts during the workday, with 21 percent of respondents saying they read 20 or more a day. And 20 percent of the full-time employees who responded said they'd attended a march or rally since the election.
Kris Duggan, CEO of BetterWorks, was interested in funding a survey after noticing that employees at his own 100-person startup, which focuses on goal-setting and performance management, seemed particularly distracted and tired in recent weeks. "People weren’t spending the weekend recharging," he said. "They were going to rallies or getting caught up in arguments."
Meanwhile, he's also noticed the political environment being an interruption during the work day. Even clients have said they're distracted, telling him "we have our plates full dealing with all the other noise," Duggan says. The constant headlines, tweets and turbulent start have been a distraction, he says. "It's a big magnet that’s sucking the energy out of the work that needs to get done."
The survey also found that nearly 50 percent of those surveyed said they have witnessed a political conversation turn into an argument at work, with 63 percent of millennials saying the same. Thirty percent said their colleagues spend more time talking about politics than they do about work. And almost 30 percent of workers say they're less productive since the election.
Interestingly, however, about 70 percent said they felt more productive since November. Some, particularly Trump supporters, may just not be distracted. Many others may simply be glad to put the election behind them and be ready to move on. And still others may find that focusing on work provides a distraction of its own from the chaos of the news.
Adam Ochstein, CEO of another human resources software startup in Chicago, said in an interview last week that there has been a heavier mood in his office, but "if anything, work has become a positive outlet of good distraction for our team. I think a lot of it is 'let me focus on the work,' " to help "drown" out the noise.
BetterWorks' survey findings about distraction fits with reports by a number of workplace consultants who have said in recent interviews that clients have been concerned about the level of anxiety and unease -- worried about employees' increasing mobile-phone checking, adding televisions to employee break rooms to make others feel in touch, or watching productivity drop to "next to zero" after news of the travel ban disrupting immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries sparked widespread alarm, particularly among technology companies.
The survey, which was fielded Jan. 31 through Feb. 2 and included respondents that were one-third Democrat, one-third Republican and one-third independent, included a national sample that leaned toward survey takers from the south and midwest. About half of respondents were in management roles, and the sample was roughly split along gender lines.