Tips to stay focused during the workday when you're overwhelmed by election news

Many Americans have endured countless personal struggles this year living and working (or looking for work) during a global pandemic. And with the U.S. presidential election now days away, months of contentious headlines are coming to a head. Workers already on the edge of burnout may feel even more stressed and unproductive while following the up-to-the-minute political news cycle.

At BetterUp, a professional coaching platform, discussions around election stress and how it bleeds into the workplace have been top of mind for many clients in the last two weeks alone. Gabriella Rosen Kellerman, who examines workplace behavior as BetterUp's chief product officer, says workers are increasingly seeking coaching help to stay focused during the workday, handle difficult conversations in the workplace and even find value alignment with an employer that has expressed differing political views.

She spoke with CNBC Make It about some of the ways employees can prioritize their wellbeing while juggling work tasks and keeping up with election news.

Create boundaries and center yourself

Unless your work is directly related to political campaigning, "it's not your job to keep up with the 5-minute news cycle," Kellerman says. "So turn down that noise to stay grounded and keep perspective."

Many people have already learned how to tune out news updates regarding coronavirus, and it's good to also establish limits on how much political news you consume each day. Set guidelines about the time of day when you tune in and how you get your information.

For example, maybe you give yourself 30 minutes at the end of every workday to watch the local news and get updates about your local elections.

Schedule in time to focus on your physical and mental wellness, Kellerman adds, such as making sure you continue to eat healthfully and get moving daily. Now might not be a bad time to prioritize, or even start, a mindful breathing or meditation practice.

Rebalance your work load

Certain work tasks may feel more psychologically taxing if you're already exhausted by election news. As much as you're able to, Kellerman suggests you rebalance your workload so you spend more time on projects that energize you and motivate you to stay on task. Communicate with your manager or your employees about your priorities and what can be shifted around.

You can also give yourself different side projects or activities to balance out urgent work needs. Leaders can help here, too: At BetterUp, for example, the company is encouraging workers to compete in a hackathon the week of the election, essentially a creative workshop and "space for people to pour their passion into something they're really excited about," Kellerman says.

If infusing creative and energizing projects into the workplace isn't available to you, apply this strategy to your personal life and plan things you can look forward to outside of work hours.

Find support in the workplace

Kellerman encourages employees struggling with stress in the workplace to communicate their concerns with their manager. Be prepared to offer specific feedback and solutions about what kind of support you may need from your team, she adds.

"Sustainability is going to be the winning strategy here," Kellerman says. "Acknowledging the stress we're feeling and asking for help to manage it in healthy ways is going to make us a more resilient workforce."

Additionally, get to know what kind of employer-provided support may be available, such as access to employee wellness programs or a network of mental health professionals.

As a manager, tune in to how your employees are feeling and empower them to take time for themselves. It can be helpful to model this behavior and set the tone on your team by asking questions, being curious and coming to conversations with high empathy and low judgment.

"No matter the crisis or source of stress, everyone needs to feel heard," Kellerman says. "The simple act of a manager pausing during a fast-paced day just to hear what someone's saying can demonstrate the care and support the person is needing."

Handle difficult conversations with care

Political conversation in the workplace can be its own source of stress. According to a 2019 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.

One benefit of working remotely, Kellerman says, is that you're less likely to overhear and be pulled into someone else's heated political debate. A downside, however, is that if you get roped into a discussion online, written communication lacks tonal cues that can easily lead to misinterpretation.

See this physical distance as an opportunity to have a more intentional conversation, says Roger Brooks, president and CEO of the educational non-profit Facing History & Ourselves. "That intentionality can give you a moment before you start a complicated conversation to center yourself, and maybe your partner will as well, in a controversial topic," he says.

As a partner of The Better Arguments Project, a national civic initiative to encourage respectful discourse on contentious issues, Brooks offers five principles of a better argument:

  1. Take winning off the table
  2. Prioritize relationships and listen passionately
  3. Pay attention to context
  4. Embrace vulnerability
  5. Make room to transform

Lean into the fact that you and your colleague share several similarities, including that you're part of an organization with shared values and goals.

"Engaging really effectively and productively across difference allows people to better work together," Brooks says.

Focus on what's in your control

It's possible Americans won't know the results of the Nov. 3 presidential election for several days. Living in this void of uncertainty can cause stress when you're otherwise expected to be productive, so Kellerman recommends you focus on what's in your control instead of letting your mind dwell on the worst-case scenario from your perspective.

While she says this type of thinking is human nature, she suggests people remember that they are in control of how they respond to the news.

"Understand the limits of what you can control and define any specific actions you want to take within your control," she says. For example, during work hours, you have full control over how you connect with colleagues, offer support to others and refrain from expressing views about the outcome of the election that can be considered divisive.

Again, focusing on the commonalities you have with colleagues can bridge stressful situations that may arise at work, Kellerman says: "Create space for high quality connections, bring compassion and grace to interactions, and allow ourselves to be human together."

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