Think back, for a moment, to last fall. As the election approached, and our political debates grew more heated, Americans’ stress levels steadily rose, to the point where some felt their work was affected. Our only consolation was the knowledge it would all be over soon.
How naïve we were.
According to a new American Psychological Association survey, 26 percent of employed American adults report feeling “tense or stressed out as a result of political discussions at work.” Only 17 percent made that same statement last summer.
The percentage of people reporting politics-related discussions have led to higher levels of workplace hostility has also increased, from 13 percent before the election to 18 percent after the inauguration. In the new survey, 31 percent said they have “witnessed or overheard co-workers arguing about politics;” only 26 percent reported doing so before the election.
The online survey, conducted February 16th through March 8th, featured 1,311 people, all of whom were employed either full- or part-time. It revisited a series of questions asked during a similar survey conducted August 10th–12th, exploring whether and how our fractious political culture is affecting the way we do our jobs.
The results strongly suggest that, as Americans grapple with the personality and priorities of our new president, the atmosphere at our workplaces is increasingly apprehensive. If President Donald Trump wants to claim a real victory, perhaps he should change his slogan to “Make America Agitated Again.”
Fifty-four percent of survey participants “said they have discussed politics at work since the election,” the report states. “For 40 percent of American workers, [this discussion] has caused at least one negative outcome, such as reduced productivity, poorer work quality, difficulty getting work done, feeling stressed out, or increased workplace hostility.” That represents a sizable increase over pre-election survey data, “when 27 percent reported at least one negative outcome.”
Trump-related tension has had a stronger negative effect on women than men. Twenty percent of females report they “have felt more cynical and negative at work” as a result of politics-related workplace discussions, compared to only 9 percent of males. Twelve report reporting having “more difficulty getting work done;” only 6 percent of men said the same.
The results revealed some interesting generational differences as well. Thirty-five percent of Millennials report they “have felt tense or stressed out” as a result of political discussions at work since the election. This compares to only 23 percent of Generation Xers and 16 percent of Baby Boomers.
Even more striking, 28 percent of Millennials reported to “have had more difficulty getting work done” due to this workplace friction. That compares to only 9 percent of Gen Xers and 4 percent of Baby Boomers. Feel free to make your own snarky joke about overly sensitive (or excuse-prone) 20-somethings.
Breaking the results down by ideology, 38 percent of self-declared liberals reported “feeling tense or stressed as a result of political discussions,” compared to 22 percent of moderates and 21 percent of conservatives. They were also the most likely of those three groups to “perceive an increase in workplace hostility.”
On the positive side, “people who identified as liberal were also more likely to report that political discussions made them feel more connected to co-workers.” Workplace tension may be rising, but those break-room recaps of the previous night’s Rachel Maddow Show are clearly bringing people closer.