By Martha C. White
February 13, 2017

Feel like you can’t get anything done at work anymore? Blame the politicians.

The contentious political climate isn’t just infiltrating our personal relationships and social media feeds. It’s also creeping into the workplace and killing office productivity.

When the Society for Human Resource Management surveyed HR professionals shortly before the presidential election, more than half of respondents said there was a higher level of political volatility in the workplace this year. The election might be settled, but this issue clearly isn’t. A new survey from performance-management technology company BetterWorks found that political discussions are a major distraction in workplaces around the country today, and that disruption is likely to be the norm for some time.

“At work, just as in life, distractions are par for the course. The key is how well you manage them,” says Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer for CareerBuilder.com.

HR experts offer the following suggestions for keeping your office as peaceful and productive as possible.

Don’t deny it. “Acknowledge that it is a distraction,” says Kris Duggan, CEO of BetterWorks. Take the first step and recognize if you’re tempted to talk politics in the break room or in online comment threads. The idea is to identify the behavior and stop it before it ruins your professional relationships or your ability to get your job done.

Use social media sparingly. Many of us browse and post on social media to escape from stress during the workday, but that habit often winds up adding fuel to the fire. BetterWorks’ survey found that, on average, people spend two hours a day reading about politics on social media, and 22% spend three or more hours — nearly half the workday — getting sucked into political commentary on sites like Facebook.

“Six months ago, people might have gone to Facebook for a few minutes to unwind, now they’re getting caught up in this thing,” Duggan says. Swear off social media during the workday if you can’t resist the temptation, or set yourself strict time limits — say, 10 minutes during a lunch break or only while you have your morning coffee.

Keep your cool. BetterWorks found that about three-quarters of Americans are discussing politics with their colleagues, and about half have seen a political conversation blow up into an argument. “To avoid letting political talk turn sour, recognize that there’s a thin line between freedom of expression and a potential source of conflict,” Haefner says. It’s OK to state your views; it’s not OK to insist that your co-workers share them.

Deflect the conversations. Whether you agree or disagree with a colleague’s political position, hearing about it can get exhausting after a while. This can be a drag on your time as well as your mental energy. Duggan suggests the most diplomatic way to disengage is to steer the conversation back to work. Say you have a phone call or deadline looming and excuse yourself.

Suggest a group volunteer activity. “I have seen more companies using community service activities as an avenue to direct emotions toward positive, non-political goals,” says Jim Strain, human resources director at DKS Associates and a member of the Society for Human Resource Management’s HR disciplines panel. Get HR involved or coordinate on your own a blood drive, or a day set aside for volunteering at a local food bank, building with Habitat for Humanity, or cleaning litter at a local park or roadside. “These activities allow employees to contribute in tangible ways to their communities while also building a sense of teamwork and company support,” Strain says.

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