Boosting employee productivity after an election roller coaster

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As the dust begins to settle from a contentious presidential election and a week of waiting that kept the country in limbo, employers are now tasked with getting their workers back on track and refocused at work.

According to a study by Gartner, a global research and consultancy firm, 60% of employees reported feeling distracted at work because of the presidential election. The study anticipates political distractions will continue to dominate in the workplace post-election too, with 57% of employees reporting they sometimes or often discuss politics at work.

Read more: Talking politics in a digital workplace: 7 ways to keep it civil

Distraction negatively affects productivity, overall well-being and employee mental health, three critical areas that have taken a hit throughout the coronavirus pandemic and the constant political news cycle, says Dr. Natalie Baumgartner, chief workforce scientist at Achievers, an employee success platform.

“Between election-induced anxiety and living through a global health crisis that's worse each day, there’s a huge weight on the individual,” she says. “Employee engagement has a very clear and direct impact on productivity but also profitability for organizations. Employers have a tremendous challenge on their hands.”

Employees should feel safe expressing their experiences and their stress related to the election and COVID-19, but managers need to set clear boundaries, says Mike Schmidt, labor and employment attorney with Cozen O’Connor.

“Managers need to do the best they can to diffuse situations without taking sides,” he says. “It’s a good idea for managers to acknowledge these are highly charged topics, and to remind employees to be sensitive to other people’s beliefs and lived experiences.”

Making the workplace “psychologically safe” will help employees feel open to discussing what’s on their mind, Baumgartner says. Modeling these behaviors will set the tone and help employees share their opinions and then move on.

Read more: 3 ways to refresh your workspace to be more productive at home

“Leaders need to model a safe and psychologically healthy work environment, whether we’re in person or on Zoom,” she says. “It’s really important to ensure employees feel safe to talk about their stress and that means showing employees respect and expressing empathy.”

Election-related stress has also caused fatigue and feelings of burnout, an issue already exacerbated by the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now more than ever, managers should promote healthy work-life balance and encourage employees to take time off if needed to reset.

Managers who practice what they preach will make it more acceptable for employees to feel comfortable doing the same, Baumgartner says.

“It starts at the top, and it doesn't matter what we say. It's how we behave in organizations that sends the really strong message,” Baumgartner says. “Employees are more likely to trust and confide in managers who are empathetic and self-aware.”

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Employee productivity Election 2020 Mental health Crisis Management Employee engagement Household employers Gartner