Presidential election impacting work of 60% of US employees, Gartner says

The report focuses on the Nov. 3 election's impact on workplace productivity, employee sentiment regarding political disclosures at work, and more.

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The 2020 presidential election season is in full swing and candidates are making their final push in states around the country. On Tuesday, Gartner released the results of an October survey focused on the upcoming election and its impact on employee productivity. The results detail employee comfort discussing politics at work, their workload affecting their ability to vote, and more.

"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 a press release. "In fact, one-third of employees say the election has led them to argue about politics with a co-worker."

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Gartner survey: Election impact on US workers

Overall 60% of employees in the US feel distracted by the election during the workday; a 20% increase from December 2019. About one-in-five (22%) of respondents feel as though the presidential election is having a "big impact" on their ability to perform their job; a 17% increase from December 2019. 

As Gartner explained, these distractions are "unlikely" to end in the "near term" as discussions about the elections will continue both leading up to and immediately following the presidential election.

Interestingly, more than half of respondents (57%) report that they "sometimes or often" discussion politics at work. This represents a 13% increase from March 2020. About four-in-10 respondents (43%) said it is challenging "to work with colleagues whose political beliefs differ from their own."

In conversations with coworkers, roughly three-quarters of respondents said that they feel comfortable disclosing the candidate they will vote for in the presidential election. Although more than one-quarter (28%) said they were uncomfortable "disclosing their vote at work."

"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, in a press release.

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Voter participation opportunities

More than six-in-10 employees said they wanted their "employer to provide at least one voter participation opportunity." Overall, older employees are less likely to report that their workload exists as a barrier to voting, per Gartner. About one-in-five (21%) of respondents between the ages of 18 and 29 said that "having too much work to take time off" could affect their ability to vote in the election.

"While the costs of the distraction tax are high, it would be wrong to simply tell employees to ignore politics in the workplace. The reality is that political conversations will occur no matter what senior leaders say. Instead, leaders need to create spaces for employees to participate in the political process in a way that minimizes their distractions," said Brian Kropp, chief of research in the Gartner HR practice via email.

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