Distracted and stressed at work by the constant buzz about politics and the onslaught of news out of Washington? You’re not alone.
A new survey by the American Psychological Association found that a significantly higher percentage of workers are feeling burdened or strained because of political discussions in the workplace than during the political campaign. More than a quarter, or 26 percent, said political debates at work had left them feeling tense or stressed, a significant increase from the 17 percent who said the same when the APA last ran the survey, back in August before President Trump’s election in November.
The survey of more than 1,300 employed adults in late February and early March also found that 21 percent said they have felt more cynical and negative at work because of all the political talk, compared with 15 percent in August. And some 40 percent of workers said the divisive, distracting environment has caused at least one negative outcome for them, whether in the form of reduced productivity, poorer work quality, difficulty getting work done, increased hostility in the workplace or having a more negative view of co-workers.
In August, just 27 percent said they’d had such a negative outcome. “I was surprised at the size of the jump and the percentage of people saying it produced at least one negative impact,” said David Ballard, the director of the APA’s Center for Organizational Effectiveness. The big take-away, he said, is that the politically charged atmosphere is “causing them stress, and hurting job performance.”
The findings depict a workplace that has not settled down since the election, which many employers thought would happen once it ended, but remained on edge, with politics continuing to command workers’ attention and remaining a major topic of debate. More than 30 percent said they had witnessed co-workers arguing about politics, and about a quarter said they avoided some co-workers because of their political views. Nearly 1 in 5 (18 percent) reported an increase in workplace hostility and 17 percent said team cohesiveness had suffered.
Before the election, Ballard said, there was little difference in the way political talk on the job was affecting Republicans versus Democrats, and those who identify as liberals or conservatives. But in the more recent survey, there was a big divide when it came to political philosophy: Those who identify as liberals were more likely to feel stressed and tense at work because of political conversations (38 percent said they were) compared with those who identify as moderate or conservative (22 and 21 percent, respectively).
Ballard says that shows that the tensions are not about which party won or lost the election, but that some feel its outcome and aftermath offends their deeply held views about issues. “It has less to do with party affiliation than it does with general views or philosophies,” he said. “This is more about these core values that you hold that are very personal to you. When you’re talking about things that touch on age, sex, race, religion, civil liberties and economic security, all of these things people have strong feelings about, regardless of which side of the aisle you’re on. Those are the things people are having discussions about.”
Interestingly, even though self-identified liberals were more stressed, more of them (39 percent) also said they felt more connected to their co-workers than those with other political views (just 25 percent of conservatives said the same). Forty percent of Democrats said they too felt more connected with co-workers, compared with 27 percent of Republicans.
Ballard said people’s feelings about politics in the workplace varies tremendously depending on how homogeneous — or different — a workplace’s political views tend to be. “In some ways people are bonding over this,” he says. In an environment where more people view things the same, “you’re getting support from each other. In a very diverse workforce, where no one’s really sure what the boss’s views are, there’s a lot more stress, a lot more tension, a lot more opportunity for conflict.”
Women, in particular, have reported negative outcomes at work since the election, according to the survey. Nine percent said they reported feeling more cynical and negative at work before the election, but that number is now 20 percent. (For men, the figure was slightly changed, from 20 to 23 percent.)
Other surveys on how much Trump’s election has had an impact on the environment at work and employees’ productivity there have been mixed. A recent Gallup poll found that political conversations are sharply on the rise, with nearly 60 percent of people reporting that people at work have been talking about politics more often over the past four months than in the past. But just 11 percent of respondents in the survey said it was having a negative effect on their work.
Yet in February, a survey commissioned by the employee software company BetterWorks found that workers reported spending an average of two hours a day reading political posts on social media. Nearly half of those surveyed said they’d seen a political conversation turn into an argument at work, and 30 percent said their colleagues were spending more time talking about politics than they were about the jobs at hand.