It can seem like no one wins when your Facebook feed is full of partisan political bickering, but indeed, there is a big winner: Facebook. And, most social media firms.
There’s a loser, too: U.S. worker productivity, at least according to one new survey. Employees say they are spending TWO HOURS PER DAY reading political posts on social media, according to a survey published today by BetterWorks, an employee productivity firm. The survey, which was conducted online by Wakefield Research, also found that 87% of employees say they are reading political social media posts during the work day, and 21% read 20 or more. Full-time working Americans read an average of 14 political posts per work day; millennials read 18.
“No matter which way you voted in the presidential election, the recent uptick in political conversations, social media posts and news articles is distracting U.S. workers,” says Kris Duggan, CEO of BetterWorks.
Online surveys aren’t always the most accurate way to determine users’ behavior — scientific observation would be better — but the results are hardly surprising to anyone whose watched a Facebook comment throwdown in the past few weeks. (And really, who hasn’t?).
Also, they are consistent with field observations from Dan Maccarone, who runs design agency Charming Robot. He helps media companies strategize based on user research.
“Basically, people are getting all their news from Facebook and cannot look away,” he said. “Lives have become one giant pile-up, with the whole country rubbernecking.”
Maccarone was discussing his findings recently with a colleague who shared with him a popular sentiment: “I know….I can’t get off Twitter or Facebook either and I hate it.”
In the survey, workers fessed up to the distraction: 29% said they are less productive since the election, and that number increases to 35% among those who read 10 or more political social media posts per work day. Also, 30% said they talk more about politics than work.
One wonders if that effect will genuinely show up in government worker productivity data, which has already been lagging lately.
The Trump fighting creates a complicated dynamic at the workplace, Duggan said.
“Managers should feel empowered to give employees space and encourage work-life balance, while remaining transparent about expectations so employees can stay productive despite distractions from political conversations and news,” he said. “Transparency around goals and expectations at work can help workers stay focused despite the extra noise and chaos. ”
Are things really worse, than, say political social media discussions in the pre-Trump era? Well, it’s hard to say, because BetterWorks did not run the same survey during an earlier election cycle. It’s not like social media distraction was invented in 2016. Here’s some interesting data for context from Pew, however: 51% of workers say their employer has social media usage policies (*they must be breaking). And only about 30% admitted to Pew that they use social media to take a mental break from work or connect with family and friends.
I asked ComScore, the website traffic management company, if it had any data to show traffic overall to sites like Facebook was up because of a Trump effect. I haven’t heard back, though I suspect the answer will be unsatisfying — it would be hard to come up with an apples-to-apples comparison.
But again, it’s hardly unprecedented that office workers are distracted by the Internet. Challenger Gray and Christmas reminds us every March that billions of dollars worth of productivity are lost every year due to the NCAA college basketball tournament. But consider this: Last year’s estimate, $4 billion, was based on two hours of game watching. That’s one day’s worth of Trump watching, according to the BetterWorks survey. And, the NCAA tourney distraction is really just two weeks long. The Trump effect seems to be far outlasting that.
Why? It seems to be addictive.
“People are exhausted,” Maccarone said. “They’re looking for some level of comfort and social media seems like the only place they can hope to find it. But they aren’t finding it, so they go back looking for more. Don’t find it again. It’s cyclical and maddening.”
Managers who might be maddened by this, take heart: I think it’s reasonable to believe that employees would appreciate some rules around the amount of Trump talk that takes place at the office. Here’s a set of tips provided by BetterWorks.
NOTE: Dan Maccarone and I are working on a (cool!) project together called BarstoolMBA.
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