A Brand New Employee Distraction

Photo by Chiltepinster

I wake to NPR’s “Morning Edition” but that’s not enough—I reach for my phone to check the headlines in the New York Times. (The paper copy, waiting on my doorstep, won’t be sufficiently up-to-date.) Then I check Facebook to see what clips from other papers my friends have posted. Then I weigh in on those clips.

That’s all within minutes of getting out of bed, and it is only the beginning. During the day I am continually distracted by “breaking news” email alerts. I turn on the radio over lunch to catch the latest, and have trouble turning it off again. At night, glued to cable news, I find myself going to bed later and sleeping not only less, but less well.

Am I the only one who is unable to tear myself away from the news in these astonishing times?

Apparently not.

A new survey of 500 U.S. workers found that 87 percent of them are reading political posts on social media during the workday, and 29 percent report they’ve been less productive since the election. And that’s not all.

I mostly work alone in my home office, and, like so many other Americans, my life on social media generally involves a comfortable bubble of like-minded friends. Most people, of course, work alongside other people, and those people are not necessarily going to all share the same politics. The same survey found that half of respondents had witnessed political arguments in the workplace. (I have a friend who has long silent text conversations about politics with a coworker in the next cubicle, to avoid antagonizing other colleagues who are—politically speaking—on the other side.) And arguing is only one bit of the negative fall-out. Employees are also reporting simply being distracted by their own distress over the news.

Interestingly, the Atlantic article linked to above points out that trying to suppress political discussion in the workplace flies in the face of a current work-life trend I’ve written about before: the recognition that true diversity means being able to bring one’s whole, authentic self to work. HR leaders often don’t want to discourage this “whole self” concept, yet may be at a loss about what to do with the resulting turmoil.

I can’t find any studies about ongoing sleep deprivation due to the political situation, whether because (like me) people can’t tear themselves away from media or whether (like me) they can’t sleep because they are so anxious about the latest news. But on the night of the election and the night right after, there was apparently a tremendous dip in hours slept across the country. And there were some stories last fall, when the race was still on, about how the election campaign, itself, was sending people’s stress levels through the roof.

I’m guessing that a lot more people than usual are showing up at work these days fatigued, thus making it even more difficult to concentrate on the task at hand. (According to a study released a few years ago, lack of sleep is responsible for $31 billion in workplace errors.)

So—politics-related distraction, stress, sleep deprivation: it’s a whole new wrinkle for workers, and no doubt a whole new headache for their employers. Call it “work-life-politics balance.” The question is, what effect will it have on productivity nationwide, and what can we do about it? Because my guess is it’s not going away any time soon.

Trying for a corporate award? Slogging through an RFP? You can’t win if you can’t tell your story–and I can help. Why not let me give you a hand?

I blog about work-life, diversity, wellness and other aspects of great workplaces as often as I find the time (which means a couple times a month, if I’m lucky). Want to know when my next post comes out? Sign up here



  1. Robin – You capture the new affliction well! I know I’m suffering from this distraction, also, and have had to put strict boundaries around my social media and news time (although not always successful.)

  2. Yes, I’m hearing recognition from a LOT of people. Thanks for the comment!

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