Survey: Presidential campaign takes toll on workers

By Rivkela Brodsky
November 1st, 2016

The U.S. presidential campaign is taking a toll on workers, according to a recent survey by the American Psychological Association, which found one in four workers were negatively affected by political discussions at work in at least one way.

“We do surveys regularly that take the pulse of the U.S. workforce. We look at topics related to people’s experience on the job,” said David Ballard, Psy.D., director of the APA’s Center for Organizational Excellence. “This year, given how heated the election has been and how much this has been consuming conversation everywhere, we thought we’d take a look at how this political talk might be affecting people and their work.”

A poll of 927 U.S. employed adults in August found that the election is causing 17 percent of workers to feel tense or stressed out, 13 percent to be less productive on the job, 15 percent to be more cynical and negative at work and 10 percent to see their work quality suffer.

Ballard said one in four employees is a significant portion of the workforce. “That can have a big ripple effect that can hurt the whole organization and the team, he said. “With the election coming up and debates happening, it’s more likely to increase. Employers need to be aware that it is happening and make sure they are creating an environment that is respectful, where people – even if they have political differences – can still come together to get the job done.”

The APA’s Politics in the Workplace Survey: 2016 Election Season found that men and younger workers (ages 18-34) were more likely than women and older generations to say they are experiencing negative consequences such as having a hard time getting work done, seeing their work quality suffer and their productivity decline, Ballard said.

Younger workers and men were more likely to say that political discussions at work caused them to feel more isolated from their coworkers, have a more negative view of their colleagues and experience the workplace as a more hostile environment.

Other key findings of the survey:

  • 27 percent of working Americans reported at least one negative outcome as a result of political discussions at work during this election season;
  • Although 60 percent of working Americans indicated that people at work are generally respectful toward others with differing political views, 26 percent have witnessed or overheard their coworkers arguing about politics and 11 percent have gotten into an argument themselves;
  • 54 percent said they avoid discussion of politics with colleagues and 20 percent reported avoiding some coworkers because of their political views;
  • Among all workers surveyed, 47 percent said people are more likely to discuss politics in the workplace in this election season than in the past.

While the APA will conduct workforce surveys a couple of times a year, this is the first time a survey has asked about politics, Ballard said. “Every year in surveys we find that work is one of the leading causes of stress for U.S. adults, so we wondered if the U.S. election was adding any stress to that.”

However, there was one surprising find of the survey: across party affiliation or political philosophies of those surveyed, there were few differences to how this was affecting people. “Despite all these heated discussions and divisive rhetoric out there, it was affecting people in similar ways,” Ballard said.

Ballard said that because of this spillover of politics in the workplace, clinical psychologists are likely to see people that are dealing with more stress or getting into conflicts with their peers. “There may be some help that can be provided around coping skills,” he said.

Psychologists working with organizations should work to help managers and business leaders recognize the effect the election might be having on the workplace, he said, “and work to create a civil environment where these kinds of discussions can happen without a problem.”

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