Only one time before has CEO Andy Ruben seen his co-workers so distracted by the news, and that was a very different situation: 9/11.
Ruben is CEO of Yerdle, a San Francisco company that helps retailers resell used products. Since the election of Donald Trump and subsequent political turmoil, Ruben said it has been hard to keep his workers focused.
“Their general feeling about the world right now is absolutely affecting their ability to show up and be productive at work,” Ruben said.
How much of an impact are we talking about here? Well, that’s a tough thing for businesses to measure. Kris Duggan wanted to get a concrete answer.
Duggan is CEO of BetterWorks, which develops software to manage employee performance. Since the election, even his own employees have been unfocused. “This is like a whole new world of distraction,” Duggan said.
Instead of recharging on weekends, like good worker bees, employees are out protesting. At work they are posting on social media and debating with colleagues. To try to quantify this distraction, Duggan commissioned the consultancy firm Wakefield Research to do a national survey of 500 full-time employees.
“The results were shocking,” Duggan said. “We found that 87 percent of employees are reading political social media posts during the workday.”
The survey found that workers on average are spending two hours reading or talking about political news at work. For some employees it’s three or four hours a day. And it’s not just liberals in the Bay Area. People from across the political spectrum and across the country have become news junkies.
The survey was conducted by Nathan Richter. He said interest in political news normally peaks around the election season, but he has never seen anything like this. “This is a whole new mountain rising out of the ocean and kind of towering over the landscape,” he said.
What’s most surprising, Richter said, is how current events have changed corporate culture. People are now talking politics at work, and not just with co-workers. According to the survey, nearly a third of respondents have talked to a client or customer about politics. More than a third have talked to a boss or a manager.
“That’s insanity,” Richter said. "Most career coaches, I think, would tell you to change the topic."
Even employees who are not posting or talking about politics on the job are still distracted by it. Take Amanda Delzell, an employee at BetterWorks.
Delzell said she had never made a political post on social media before the election. She didn’t want to be “that person,” the one who is always opining on social media. But all of that changed Nov. 8.
Delzell has friends and family on both sides of the political divide. She could not believe what some of them were posting on social media after the election. She could restrain herself no longer.
Delzell began commenting, arguing and crafting elaborate responses in her head. It was exhausting and damaging to her mental well-being. Literally. It started bringing back some of the anxiety she had overcome years ago with therapy.
“During the height of all this I was experiencing anxiety attack symptoms again,” Delzell said.
Her co-worker, Christine Nguyen Vaeth, is losing sleep.
She stays up reading all the news she missed at work. “I'll typically be awake at 3 or 4 in the morning catching up on these articles,’ Nguyen Vaeth said.
Sure, a good night’s sleep will make her less groggy at work. But Nguyen Vaeth said it’s our responsibility as citizens to be informed -- especially now, when there is so much at stake.
As a boss you can’t stop people from reacting to what's happening in the world, said Yerdle CEO Andy Ruben.
“Clamping down and trying to deny people the way that they’re feeling outside of work would be counterproductive,” Ruben said.
He said he wants to keep his staff efficient. But he said it’s important to remember that people spend a lot of their time at work, and they need a place to discuss what’s on their minds. And right now, there is a lot on their minds.