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47% of workers say the 2020 election has impacted their ability to do their jobs

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A trader watches a television monitor showing President Donald Trump after he signed four bills that reverse Obama-era regulations and rules on education, land use and federal purchasing, on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

It's a presidential election year, which means Americans are talking about politics more than usual — including at the office.

A survey, released today, of 500 employees across the United States by research firm Gartner finds that 78% of people talk about politics at work. And 47% of people say the 2020 presidential election has impacted their ability to get work done.

There are several possible reasons why politics may be hurting productivity.

One third of those polled said that the 2020 presidential election has led them to spend more time getting political news while at work, which has the potential to take time away from other important tasks.

Second, political conversations may be making work teams less collaborative. Some 36% of employees said they have avoided talking to, or working with, a coworker because of their political views, Gartner found.

"Imagine what happens to an organization's ability to get stuff done when roughly one out of three of your employees is actively avoiding another employee because they have different political beliefs," Brian Kropp, vice president at Gartner tells CNBC Make It.

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And importantly, these conversations can take a toll on employees. About 31% of those who talk politics at work say these conversations are "stressful and/or frustrating."

Excessive stress such as this has the potential to be both a health — and a work — hazard. According to Harvard Business Review, stress temporarily impairs strategic thinking and makes people three times more likely to leave their jobs. Plus, burnout costs the U.S. more than $300 billion a year in absenteeism, turnover, diminished productivity, and medical, legal and insurance costs.

For some workers, talking about politics at work can become particularly personal.

Some 29% of employees have witnessed at least one instance of unacceptable treatment of a coworker, including being called offensive names, Gartner found. Gartner calls for organizations to emphasize their commitment to diversity and inclusion to combat that trend.

Companies should be especially aware of political "conversations" that may actually veer into harassment, depending on what they involve, Kropp said. While Gartner's research did not ask individuals about their political leanings, Kropp says that this "increasingly gray" line of what is acceptable to discuss is what employers need be clear about.

He says workplaces have three options. They can ban political conversations on the clock, which is clear, but perhaps unrealistic. They can provide training for how workers can have healthy respectful conversations, which may still leave opportunity for bad actors to say disrespectful things. Or they can host intentional guided conversations so workers can express themselves, even if it feels less organic.

Gartner's survey is just the latest to research the ways politics impacts workers' personal and professional lives.

According to a recent Glassdoor poll of over 1,200 employed adults, 57% of workers say they have talked about politics while on the job — despite 60% saying they "believe discussing politics at work is unacceptable."

According to a recent survey from the Society for Human Resource Management, 42% of U.S. employees say they have personally experienced, and 44% say they have witnessed, political disagreements at work. A majority (56%) said that discussing politics at work has become more common in the past four years.

"Whatever they choose, you've got to have a plan because if you're assuming workers aren't [talking politics], I can guarantee you, something bad will happen," says Kropp warning of harassment and work-hindering avoidance. "One of the things that I know with certainty is that over the next nine months, between now and election day in the U.S., it will become more contentious, not less contentious."

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