Who’s winning that Facebook comment or Tweet throwdown you’re in? Not your boss

President Donald Trump’s Facebook page is a discussion starter — and perhaps a workplace productivity killer.

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.

 

While it’s impossible to eliminate political conversation and distraction at work, organizations can prepare managers to avoid lost productivity. Here are five tips for managers:
1.    Don’t micromanage. Now is not the time to get nitpicky about how much time employees spending checking their social networks. Remember, even before the election, most workers were checking their social media pages too. Cut employees some slack and give them space to stay informed in light of the recent political news.
2.    Stick to your goals. If your employees have set quarterly or annual goals, now is not the time to deviate. If it feels as though the first few months of 2017 have taken a slow start due to distraction, goals can be a common ground between managers and employees. Managers should work with employees to set goals that align with the company’s long-term strategy. Goals adds focus amidst the distraction and helps employees get their work done.
3.    Encourage work-life integration. Given today’s connectivity and the technology available to workers, there are few situations where employees can truly leave their work 100% at the office. Following the election, it’s important to recognize that true work-life integration means employees will bring their personal life, including sharing their political beliefs, to work too. As a manager, do your best to accommodate the continuum of work-life integration by giving employees space to read up on news that matters to them and talk with their colleagues about political news. Do your best to ensure they aren’t too overwhelmed with work so they can truly disconnect on the weekends.
4.    Don’t argue with employees. As the survey revealed, 49% of people have witnessed a political conversation actually turn into an argument at work. If you ever have the urge to argue with an employee, especially one you manage, change the subject before it takes a negative toll on your relationship with the employee. While there is a time and place for political discussion, arguments can lead to a breach in trust in the manager-employee relationship.
5.    Unite over work.  You are not always going to agree with the political stance of your employees, but as a manager, it’s your job to give employees the means to stay focused and productive. Any change to law, like the newly regulated immigration ban for example, will create stress for some employees at your organization. When employees have the means to stay focused on work, it can actually feel like a respite. While you won’t always agree with your colleagues on every situation, find common ground in your overlapping work and apply your attention and productivity on meeting your work goals.

NOTE: Dan Maccarone and I are working on a (cool!) project together called BarstoolMBA.

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About Bob Sullivan 1137 Articles

BOB SULLIVAN is a veteran journalist and the author of four books, including the 2008 New York Times Best-Seller, Gotcha Capitalism, and the 2010 New York Times Best Seller, Stop Getting Ripped Off! His latest, The Plateau Effect, was published in 2013, and as a paperback, called Getting Unstuck in 2014. He has won the Society of Professional Journalists prestigious Public Service award, a Peabody award, and The Consumer Federation of America Betty Furness award, and been given Consumer Action’s Consumer Excellence Award.

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