The impeachment hearings are costing American businesses $2.1B an hour in lost productivity

The impeachment hearings are costing American businesses $2.1B an hour in lost productivity
[Photo: Glenn Carstens-Peters/Unsplash]

Millions of Americans are watching the impeachment hearings—and not doing their work.


That’s costing businesses $2.1 billion per hour, according to an estimate by the outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

The U.S. House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry began yesterday morning and people are following the developments—whether minute-by-minute or sporadic recaps—in any number of ways, including smartphones, social media, podcasts, and TV. And all that time dedicated to what’s happening on the Hill means it’s not being spent on the jobs they’re paid to do.

To a degree, the loss of productivity is to be expected, as an historic event unfolds in Washington, D.C. Challenger, Gray & Christmas reported a similar dip during Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony at now-U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing.

One key difference: The impeachment inquiry will last much longer. Then again, people likely will lose interest as it goes on.

To calculate the $2.1 billion, Challenger, Gray & Christmas used these figures:

  • $28.18: The average hourly wage, according to preliminary October 2019 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
  • 90,130,268: The number of Americans who use the internet at work, according to November 2017 data from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration
  • 89%: How many employed Americans work on an average weekday, according to the BLS’s 2018 Time Use Survey
  • 94%: How many workers discuss politics at work, according to a recent survey by the firm

“There’s likely not much employers can do to stymie workers’ interest in these hearings. Workers can certainly bond over watching or monitoring historic proceedings like these,” the firm’s VP Andrew Challenger said in an emailed statement. “That said, the political division currently being experienced in the country may make watching these hearings with colleagues a charged experience.”

Watching this politically charged event is different from, say, the March Madness craziness that pervades the workplace in the spring. People are more prone to get into heated arguments—or more escalated behaviors—over politics than college basketball teams. More importantly, some of those games happen at night, not when employees are on the clock. Ditto for big, live, national happenings that Americans experience en masse, such as the Super Bowl and awards shows.

Ellen Ernst Kossek, a professor of management at Purdue University, advises companies to have a policy in place about how to handle big events like this and to remind people to be respectful of other people’s points of view.

“Our policy is, ‘You can’t watch it during the day. Tape it.’ Others might say, ‘If [you] can’t beat ’em, join ’em. It’s on in the conference room with food,’ and people take a break,” she said. “People should be allowed to restructure [their time] for personal interests as long as the work gets done . . . It could be used as a team-building activity.”

Kossek explained that workplace time isn’t sacrosanct. Minor productivity losses happen all the time, like when staffers have to leave early to pick up their children from the babysitter.

Today’s workplaces aren’t siloed the way they were years ago. News of the bigger world is as close as the mobile device in a worker’s pocket. People sneak onto social media, make whispered phone calls, shop, make stock market trades, and check out dating apps while they should be working. Many companies have public TV sets, and some office buildings offer news updates in their elevators.

“Things happen in life from man landing on the moon to 9/11 to regular interruptions, like current events or baseball,” says Kossek. “You can’t manage it . . . Life happens outside the workplace. There are major political events. We can’t make workers shut out the rest of the world from 9 to 5.”