An October 2020 Gartner, Inc. survey of 500 U.S. employees revealed that six in 10 U.S. employees are distracted at work due to the upcoming U.S. presidential election. This is a more than 20% increase from December 2019.
This distraction is unlikely to end in the near-term as political discussions continue in the days leading up to, and immediately following, the U.S. 2020 presidential election. Fifty-seven percent of employees report sometimes or often discussing politics while working, up from 44% in March 2020.
“Most employees are paying attention to politics and talking about politics with their colleagues, and these discussions can have a negative impact,” said Brian Kropp, chief of research in the Gartner HR practice. “In fact, one-third of employees say the election has led them to argue about politics with a co-worker.”
Gartner’s survey also shows that nearly three-quarters of U.S. employees say they are comfortable disclosing who they vote for in the presidential election to their co-workers. Twenty-eight percent of employees report being uncomfortable disclosing their vote at work.
Maintain productivity by creating safe spaces
The share of employees who said the election has a big impact on their ability to do their jobs increased from just 5% in December 2019 to 22% in October 2020. In the face of the political conversations that are taking place, HR leaders need to ensure that these dialogues are both respectful and productive. One tactic progressive organizations are implementing is creating safe spaces for employees to have conversations about politics.
The best safe spaces encourage employees to take action, rather than just reflect on their beliefs and how they express them. HR should facilitate these conversations around relevant topics, including politics and the upcoming election, and encourage employees to examine their own unconscious biases and how they impact them both inside and outside the workplace.
“Forty-six percent of employees have avoided talking to, or working with, a co-worker because of their political beliefs, making it critical for organizations to enable employees to express themselves on controversial topics in a safe and authentic manner,” said Caroline Walsh, vice president in the Gartner HR practice.
The days leading up to, and following, the election could be especially fraught – Gartner’s survey found 43% of employees report that it is challenging to work with colleagues whose political beliefs differ from their own, a nearly 20% increase from December 2019. Managers must sense and respond to the need for support among employees, monitor political discussions and model the right behaviors to reduce the likelihood of misconduct.
Enable employees to participate
Gartner research shows that 62% of U.S. employees want their employer to provide at least one voter participation opportunity. Yet, Gartner’s October 2020 survey found that younger employees are more likely to say their workload is a barrier to their ability to vote. Twenty-one percent of employees ages 18 to 29 said that having too much work to take time off might make it difficult for them to vote in the upcoming election.
Leading organizations are making it easier for employees to participate in the political process by offering flexible work options on election day or additional paid time off to vote. Organizations that encourage employees to vote report receiving significant positive feedback from employees and seeing increased employee satisfaction and stronger relationships between employees and the organization.
Additional information on how organizations and HR leaders can address these trends is available in the Gartner article, “Managing Employee Engagement and Productivity Through the United States 2020 Presidential Election.”
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