Have you noticed an odd new trend among your employees? Are they refreshing news websites every hour? Are words like legislature and representative cropping up in water-cooler conversation? Is your staff suddenly just as likely to talk about “Meet the Press” as they are “The Walking Dead?”
If your office seems more political these days, it’s not the only one. A recent BetterWorks survey found a lot of workers are distracted by what’s going on in Washington. Eight-seven percent of respondents spend parts of their workday reading political posts on social media. A surprising 73 percent have talked with their coworkers about politics while at the office – an activity once considered a major taboo. In fact, 37 percent have involved their bosses or managers in these conversations.
While talking about politics isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, it can lead to some negative consequences. Almost half the people surveyed said a political conversation devolved into an outright argument at work. This figure increases to 63 percent when one looks only at millennial respondents. In addition, 29 percent of workers said they’ve been less productive since the election. Those who read more than 10 social media posts per day saw their productivity fall dramatically.
Dealing with a productivity downturn
If the few weeks since Jan. 20, 2017, have taught us anything, it’s that the political updates and hot takes won’t disappear anytime soon. As a business leader, you won’t be able to eliminate your employees’ interest in the news entirely, but you can help them get back on track.
Set a good example
It’s important for employees to recognize there is a time and place for political talk. While you should never outright discourage people from getting invested in politics, you can keep your own political discussions to a minimum and maintain decorum when the subject arises. If you are pulled into a political conversation, make sure to extract yourself before the discussion turns into an argument. If not, workers with political views opposite yours may start trusting you less.
Your staff might not know how much work they are sacrificing by checking CNN and Twitter every 30 minutes. During your employee check-ins, don’t be afraid to mention productivity and ask if they feel politics is compromising their work. If the person answers yes, the two of you can use the remaining time to brainstorm ways to focus.
Focus on training
Give your employees a few shortcuts that help them to work more efficiently. You should never sacrifice quality for time, but you can provide tips that decrease downtime. For example, if your staff spends a lot of time at the computer, you can teach them keyboard shortcuts or provide suggestions on how to keep their computers running quickly. These moments don’t have to appear in the form of official training sessions – you can simply send a company-wide email blast once a week with a section named “Productivity Tips.”
Remember your company goals
It’s easier for employees to focus on their work when they have clearly defined goals with set deadlines. Instead of the ambiguous-sounding “increase online conversions in Q2,” set targets like “increase email marketing click-through rate by 25 percent by June 30.” This gives employees a clear marker of progress, and the deadline helps them avoid distractions.
Your employees should be able to share their objectives and key results with everyone in the business. Likewise, they should have insight into the OKRs of their peers, managers and executives. Such an approach reminds your staff of how important their work is. When they understand their tasks are part of a larger process, they become more committed to their work and their productivity increases.
Not every company will experience a news-related downturn in productivity. Still, our survey’s findings indicate managers and business leaders should keep a watchful eye on their employees. A helping hand may be necessary to get staff back on track if the news from Washington becomes too much to handle.