Remember way back in October 2016, when we all thought we’d soon be done talking about politics 24/7? We were a lot younger then.
Six weeks into 2017, it seems like no one of any political affiliation will ever stop talking about Washington. People who used to spend their off-hours scanning social media for baby animal memes are subscribing to multiple newspapers and furiously calling their congressmen. That social involvement is less salutary when it creeps into the workplace.
And it is creeping in: a recent survey from BetterWorks found that 29 percent of workers say they’re less productive after the election. That’s not so surprising, when you consider that 87 percent also said that they read political social media posts during the workday.
Perhaps most frightening, nearly half of respondents to the survey said they’d witnessed an argument that grew out of a political discussion at work. Clearly, if there’s one thing Republicans, Democrats, and Independents can all agree on, it’s that political discussion and the office don’t mix.
Why You’re Having Trouble Keeping Quiet
Of course, you already know that you’re not supposed to talk about politics at the office. The internet is packed with blog posts telling you to keep your lips zipped about current affairs. Every career expert, guidance counselor, and life coach agrees that politics and work don’t mix.
The problem is that regardless of how you feel about its outcome, this election was hardly the same old, same old. Knowing that you should avoid talking about politics and actually being able to do it when you’re feeling passionately engaged are two very different things.
So, what do you do now?
How to Keep Politics Out of the Office
1. Ration your social media use.
“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,” writes Martha C. White at Money. “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.”
Your best bet may be to keep social media use after work hours (provided you can commit to shutting it down at some point so that you can get some sleep). At the very least, consider not using social media during your workday, when it’s likely to distract you from your to-do list.
It’s also a good idea not to start the day with your feeds. Even if you’re able to disengage from discussion by the time you leave for work, you run the risk of starting your day in a bad mood inspired by something you saw online.
Unless you want to start your day in a bad mood, don't look at social media first thing.
2. Don’t ignore the tension.
If you’re a manager, be proactive about acknowledging that people are focused on things unrelated to work.
“Call out the elephant in the room,” Elliot Begoun at SmartBrief suggested after the election. “Let the organization know that you recognize there is likely an underlying tension that exists as a result of this election and that it’s OK. Help people to understand that while one person may be jubilant, the person standing right beside them may be in utter despair.”
The aim is to encourage empathy and connection with teammates. Regardless of whether they agree politically, coworkers have common goals at work. Managers should focus employees’ attention on that.
3. Set boundaries respectfully.
The best thing you can do in a tense time like this is to be the change you want to see in the world. This means not starting political discussions, but also resisting others’ attempts to draw you into conversation, even when it seems like you agree. You never know when a teammate with opposing views might overhear and develop a sense of separateness from the team.
One way to frame the situation is to highlight the need for a space that’s apart from politics. For example, you might say, “Honestly, I could use a break from talking about the news, couldn’t you? It’s kind of nice to focus on something not related to politics.”
Bottom line, you’re not obligated to get into potentially dicey discussions unrelated to your actual work. There’s no sense in making national politics into office politics.
Tell Us What You Think
Are you less productive since the election? We want to hear from you. Tell us your thoughts in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.