With the contentious election coinciding with a global pandemic currently surging for the third time around the U.S. and the world, it is a recipe for stress and distraction at work.
In fact, according to a recent report from Gartner, the presidential election has caused distraction at work for six in 10 U.S. employees. Furthermore, the American Psychological Association found that the 2020 election is a significant source of stress of more than two-thirds (68 percent) of American adults.
The mental toll of this election is unlikely to subside quickly as the race could remain undecided for days, or even weeks. Regardless of the outcome, according to research from Reflektive, more than half of Americans say that if their candidate loses the 2020 election it will affect their performance at work. But what can business leaders and employers do to best support their employees in the days and weeks to come?
Create Psychological Safety at Work
Gartner found that 46 percent of employees avoided working with, and even talking to, colleagues whose political beliefs differ from their own. This can not only cause anxiety-producing tension in the workplace (whether virtual or in-person), but can also decrease productivity and quality of work. According to Dr. Natalie Baumgartner, chief workforce scientist at Achievers, "creating guidelines or company policies for political discourse in the workplace is key to making the company feel like a safer space during this time." Baumgartner added that "while business leaders cannot fully control their employees' reactions to the election, creating transparent guidelines for discussing politics in the workplace, and showing an understanding for the frustrations and anxieties employees experience, is crucial in making employees feel heard."
Encourage Mental Health Days
Nearly a third (32 percent) of American workers reported they needed a mental health day after the 2016 election; however, according to Mental Health America, 55 percent of employees reported they were afraid to take a day off to attend to their mental health. The first step in lessening employee concern over taking off days to tend to mental health during the election is to set the example from the top down. Leaders can actively promote when they are taking a mental health day to show employees it's OK to do the same. According to Baumgartner, "When employees see leaders and managers take days off specifically for a mental health break, it provides a form of unspoken permission for employees to do the same without fear of repercussions."
Empower Managers to Provide Employee Support
Managers are a key demographic in helping employees manage both election and Covid-19 related stress in the workplace. In fact, a recent report from Achievers found that 28 percent of employees reported better support for health and well-being would make them feel more supported in the workplace. However, Reflektive found that 56 percent of men and 40 percent of women worry that disagreeing with the political views of their boss could negatively bias their performance review, so actually talking about the election may be difficult for employees. According to Baumgartner, instead, leaders should empower managers to encourage using paid time off when needed, take the time to have one-on-one check-ins to discuss how employees can stay on track with their current workload during this time, and provide their employees with information about mental health resources the company provides, such as employee assistance programs (EAPs).
As employees continue to wake up every day for work amid an uncertain future for the country, leaders must implement strategies to help their workforce manage mental health during this time.