America’s polarized political climate appears to be significantly affecting employee productivity, according to research by Gartner.

Among 500 employees nationwide surveyed in February, 47% reported that debate surrounding the 2020 elections is impacting their ability to get work done.

A third (33%) of the employees said the topic has led them to spend more time getting political news while at work. Perhaps more worrisome, 36% of those surveyed said it has led them to avoid talking to or working with a coworker because of their political views.

“If instead of talking to a coworker, giving them help on a project, or asking for their advice on something you don’t involve them, you’re taking them out of the information loop,” Brian Kropp, chief of research in Gartner’s human resources practice, tells CFO. “Information doesn’t move across the company as much as the company would like.”

The problem is particularly acute now not only because of the heated political environment but also because in recent years work has become more team-oriented, Kropp adds.

Many companies are debating whether to put rules in place regarding political conversations at work, even to the point of possibly banning all such talk, according to Kropp.

“What’s interesting is that political perspective is not a protected class like gender, race, or age,” he notes. “Employers might not fire someone for their political beliefs, but we are seeing some different things happening.”

“They’re actually making career decisions about some employees based on their political perspectives,” says Kropp.

He gave an example of a professional services firm where senior leaders were concerned that many younger employees held different political views than most of the firm’s clients. The leaders decided they shouldn’t allow those employees to interact with and thereby risk offending certain clients.

“They’re actually making career decisions about some employees based on their political perspectives,” says Kropp.

Twenty years ago, the idea that employees would talk about politics at work was virtually unheard-of, he observes. That clearly has changed, but company policies have lagged behind what employees are actually doing.

“Companies generally have not put in sets of rules, norms, and expected behaviors about political discussions in the workplace,” Kropp says. “It’s just a very new place for companies to be.”

Many employees today want their employers to take stands on important social and political issues, which can put companies in an awkward position. “If you’re an employer of any size you’ll have a chunk of employees that believe you should go left and another chunk that believe you should go right,” says Kropp.

It was employee pressure that led Amazon boss Jeff Bezos to recently announce a plan to spend $10 billion of his own money on climate change initiatives, he notes.

Companies should strive for inclusiveness with respect to all employees, he says. In Gartner’s survey, 29% of the participants reported witnessing at least one instance of unacceptable treatment of a coworker because of their political views.

Managers should be thoughtful about the conversations that are occurring and listen for such inappropriate treatment of coworkers, Kropp counsels.

Companies could even consider bringing in outside experts to talk to educate employees about different points of view on hot-button issues, he adds. “They’re realizing that people are going to be talking about these things.”

, , ,

One response to “Political Fires Are Distracting Many U.S. Workers: Gartner”

  1. I do, and will listen to employee concerns and comments. That said, if employees don’t like who we do business with, or won’t work with someone whose views are different, then they are free to exit. There is a limit.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *