There’s office politics and then there’s politics at the office. After one of the most contentious presidential elections in U.S. history, political talk is dominating, even during work hours.

Talking about your views at work used to be taboo. Now it’s seemingly unavoidable and, not surprisingly, it’s zapping productivity.

A recent survey by performance-management technology company BetterWorks finds that political chitchat in the nascent days of the Trump administration is indeed reducing worker productivity. The company commissioned Wakefield Research, which surveyed 500 full-time U.S. employers through an online survey between Jan. 31 and Feb. 2.

Managers and employees alike should take note of how politics can up your workday. According to the survey:

  • 21% of employees consume at least 20 political social media posts per workday, which takes up around two hours of work time.
  • The more political social media posts workers read, the more distracted they feel.
  • The current state of politics distracts 29% of U.S. workers from their work.
  • 73% of employees discussed politics with their colleagues since the election.
  • 49% of workers witnessed a political conversation turning into an argument at work.

“These are legitimate findings,” said Lynn Taylor, a workplace expert and author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant; How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior and Thrive in Your Job.

“Never before has our country been so polarized by an election – and never before has the aftermath created such deep-seated concern among so many Americans,” she said. “Nearly everyone has a stance and nearly everyone is comfortable sharing it.”

She said that talking about politics at work is different from discussing celebrity gossip, economic news and other subjects. She puts it on par with religion.

“Politics is often core to our identity and beliefs,” Taylor said. “No matter what side of the fence you’re on, you likely have a strong opinion. And whatever it is, because it’s yours, it’s legit.”

Kris Duggan, CEO of BetterWorks, said politics is also stealing time employees need to relax and recharge at night or on weekends.

“It’s vital for employees to face this distraction head-on so they can stay focused and balanced both at work and at home,” Duggan said.

The stream of political content on the Internet may be endless, but workers can take control on how to deal with it, the experts say. Duggan and Taylor shared some advice on how to handle the politically charged climate in the workplace.

For employees: 

1. Know the right time and place. Understand that this election is an emotional topic for many, and discussing it may elicit distracting emotions and tension and prevent others and yourself from focusing on your tasks. Leave politics for lunch or after-work or at other more appropriate venue. When political conversations start to heat up, change subject or walk away.

2. Stay neutral where possible. In the current political landscape, the more vocal you are, the more drama you create. Keep some neutral phrases in mind, such as ‘That’s true,’ ‘I know what you mean,’ ‘I hear you,’ and ‘I understand,’ to stay out of arguments.

3Use social media minimally. Social media sites like Facebook or Twitter can be a huge source of distraction. Set strict time limits, for example, 10 minutes during a lunch break.

For managers: 

1. Set clear goals. Work with your employees to set quarterly or annual goals that align with long-term objectives of the company. These will be the common ground between managers and employees, and pull attention from politics to achievement.

2. Give space to your employees. Micromanaging employees’ social media usage won’t do any good. Many workers have always used social media even before the election. So give them space to keep themselves updated on news.

3. Encourage work-life integration. Work-life integration is crucial to employee’s well-being. Employees take work home with them and carry personal baggage to work. The integration of work and life is inevitable in today’s digital world. Allow them to read up on news that matter to them and give them the freedom to discuss it with their colleagues.

Source: USA Today