Could there be more distress today than in the awful year of 2020? Yes.
Just when we thought we had the horrors, the deaths, the losses, and the never-before-encountered stresses of 2020 in our rearview mirrors – and even as we were still wishing friends, family, and colleagues “Happy New Year”- the reality of 2021 dawned on us. It meant more stress for your employees, their children and loved ones.
Happy New Year?
The first days of the new year brought even more distressing news –
- Yet another surge in COVID-19 – now killing 4,000 Americans a day.
- The appearance of not one, but two new more contagious strains of the novel coronavirus.
- A slower than expected rollout of vaccines.
- Hospital systems overflowing with COVID-19 patients, having to ration medical oxygen, staffed by exhausted doctors and nurses.
- Schools closing to in-person classes due to surging cases, throwing working parents’ lives into further instability.
- Once unheard-of free food lines lengthening and unemployment claims and small business closings rising.
Could the news get any worse? Yes, and it did on January 6.
An Assault on the Capitol Building and a Super Spreader Event
On January 6, an angry mob of violent insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, DC. For hours, the mob looted, chanted for the execution of the Vice President and Speaker of the House, waved Confederate battle flags, displayed anti-Semitic symbols, damaged and stole Federal property, and per their stated goal, disrupted Congressional proceedings. Officials and their staffs scrambled for safety. Five people died in the violence. The dead included one brave law enforcement officer, Brian Sicknick, a 42-year-old military veteran who had worked for the Capitol Police for 12 years.
In addition to the political upheaval, the CDC Director later called the riot -and the days earlier rally featuring packed, cheering crowds with few face coverings visible- another super spreader event. One that may affect much of the country as rioters and demonstrators return to their homes across the country.
An Uncertain Future
Given this shocking event, many Americans are worrying about what violence and chaos may happen in the coming days and weeks as a new President and administration assumes office. Many are concerned about the very future of a functioning democracy.
The Effect of Employee Stress on Your Employees
Throughout America, people are under more stress today than any of us can remember. Your employees are no different. As they cope with the latest surge in COVID infection rates, delays in the distribution of a vaccine, last week’s political violence and a more uncertain future, the mental health toll on your most valuable asset – your employees – is mounting.
What You Need to be Doing Now
My encouragement is that you get even more engaged with your assistance programs (for employees or students), your health plan and wellness program providers and your organization’s Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion efforts. Furthermore, I suggest you take these six steps today.
- Use your Employee Assistance (or Student Assistance) Program’s management consultation service to help your managers navigate through workplace issues and strife brought on by political views.
- Expect bullying in the workplace to occur around political beliefs. Don’t turn a blind eye. Publish your policy. Make sure managers, supervisors and employees know that bullying is not tolerated in your workplace. And what to do if one is a victim of bullying. Make sure all employees know that displaying symbols of intolerance in the workplace is a type of bullying that is not tolerated.
- Ask your HR team to consult with your EAP or SAP about responses to unhealthy workplace cultures affected by radical political views.
- Publicize the availability of behavioral health professionals through your EAP or SAP to assist employees and students experiencing heightened emotions related to the civil unrest or growing COVID-19 Pandemic.
- If you don’t have a Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion initiative in your organization, start one today. If you do have a DEI initiative, visit with its leaders today and plan activities to address the events of last week.
- If you have a DEI initiative, consider starting small group conscious conversations this week within your workforce. Start with yourself and your direct reports. Do this throughout your organization. You may learn a lot. How your employees really experience systemic racism and how their feelings and experiences impact them at your workplace. What they notice about systemic racism in society, government and in workplaces and schools. And most importantly you may begin learning what your organization can do to address it.
About the Author
Norman Winegar, LCSW, CEAP, NCAC II is the Chief Clinical Officer at Espyr. For over 30 years, Norman has practiced in mental health, substance misuse, and EAP settings. He has also worked in leadership positions in both public and private sector behavioral health organizations. An author of four books, he is frequently called on for presentations and as a panelist to share his expertise and experience as a mental health professional.
For over 30 years Espyr, has provided innovative mental health solutions to organizations operating under some of the most challenging conditions. Espyr’s portfolio of customized counseling, coaching and consulting solutions help people and organizations achieve their full potential by providing mental health support and driving positive behavioral change. For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.
Federal murder probe opened for Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick who died following riots
Storming of Capitol was textbook potential coronavirus super spreader, experts say
The Washington Post