Many employers thought that after the 2016 election, things would calm down a bit - no more heated lunch conversations, fewer missed days going to rallies, and a renewed sense of the future. That may be true for some, but many employers are finding productivity is taking an extended hit. The culprit? Uncertainty.
With so much up in the air, employees are less productive and more stressed. We've gathered a few tips to help employers beat post-election productivity slumps in the office.
Employees don’t have to be political to be paying more attention to what’s happening in Washington D.C. With news about health care repeals, missile launches, and budget cuts, it can be difficult for employees to focus on the tasks at hand. After all, decisions impact people’s daily lives, but can also impact the business. A change in healthcare may have Human Resources scrambling for next year’s plans, a military conflict can impact workers, and budget cuts may directly affect the bottom line of the contractor.
According to a BetterWorks survey, 29% of employees report feeling less productive since the election. Distractions could be reading news articles while on the clock, getting alerts on mobile phones, or even having a break room TV tuned to CNN or Fox News. News cycles are changing hourly, so there’s a driving need to feel “in the know” in case something else changes.
Productivity Losses & Gains
Two big events are often touted when it comes to similar impacts to employee productivity: the Great Recession and March Madness. Studies show that during the recession, productivity increased for those still working. Employees able to keep their jobs worked harder. Companies are “doing more with less”, but from an employee standpoint, there is certainty during a time of uncertainty: you are still at your job and it’s harder to find an alternate. Knowing what’s going on (even if it’s not always good) means you do what you gotta do.
March Madness is the other culprit used when talking about lost productivity, and it’s measured pretty annually. This year, it was expected employers lost $6.3 billion in productivity due to employees filling out researching teams, filling out brackets, streaming games, and talking scores. Uncertainty plays a huge role here - you want to know what’s going on.
Managing Uncertainty with Employees
If you ignore the current climate or restrict access, you’re likely to continue to see productivity losses. People will be distracted. But you can do a few things to help reassure employees and even your own business in the meantime:
Provide transparency and answers when you have them: Transparency goes a long way and can be difficult to build. If you’re able to provide clarity to employee questions, send out memos or hold staff meetings. Go the extra step to anticipate questions. For example, a big debate about healthcare coverage is related to pre-existing conditions. Talk to your insurance provider and find out if you can expect changes. Employees don’t know whether changes to the legislature will trickle down to their employer. Do your homework and find out how or if changes will affect your organization and employees, then share the updates with employees. If you have no news, even mentioning the call is a gesture of good faith that you’re looking out for employees. Remind them about enrollment periods and how to add family members if needed.
Share real concerns: People want to know there’s a plan, and that it’s realistic. There’s nothing worse than leaders who clearly have no idea what they’re doing when employees are looking for guidance. When the federal budget deadline was looming, small businesses that exclusively serve the government were troubled. A shutdown could put them out of business. Don’t hide this fact from employees. Don’t start a panic, but be realistic. Have backup plans for these situations that protect both the business and employees. Then ask for help - some employees may have great ideas to diversify or other skills to add to the mix. You may come out of uncertain periods with stronger teams.
Don’t hide. There’s a murmur that goes through an office when something’s about to go down. Leadership often secludes themselves, and employees become fearful. If the news is creating uncertainty, continue to be present and support your teams. This is often associated with layoffs, and with instability in markets due to changing regulations, layoffs may have to happen at your company. Seek out resources for how your company shares this information and transitions employees. Stop rumors quickly and be clear about what happens next.
You can’t “turn off” the world, so adapt and help reassure employees. You’ll see the more focused performance but also continue to build loyal employee relationships that create positive workplace environments.
Emily Jasper is a content-strategist-turned-tech-advocate and blogger who works in the manufacturing industry. She has more than 10 years of experience in digital marketing, as well as a background in career development. You’ll likely find her geeking out about the latest comic movie or Netflix show, enjoying a beer or wine with her book club, or planning workshops for RVA Content Strategy. Her coworkers know she has the mind of a project manager but can also get creative on the fly. Her favorite type of project is building giant content strategies and back-end configurations for a website and its digital channels. She also has two dogs that keep her very busy at home. You can find out more about Emily and check out her pieces on her website http://www.emilyjasper.com/ or reach out on Twitter