America’s long wait for the presidential election’s outcome to be called by media outlets ended on Saturday, November 7, 2020. For others, the outcome is still in doubt. Regardless, for most people this election season and the lengthy counting of votes last week produced enormous additional burdens of anxiety. This only added to the already too heavy load of tension and fear related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and its economic and social disruption and loss of life. Not surprisingly, surveys from sources ranging from the American Psychological Association to the Society for Human Resource Management have shown that election distress caused distraction and loss of productivity among most workers. Millions of Americans coping with chronic health conditions said the election stress was even worse for them this year than in the past.
Election Stress Isn’t Over Yet
With an apparent though unofficial winner known in President-elect Biden and Vice-President elect Harris, will this distress and diminished productivity go away? No, not likely. In fact, it will very likely continue until all the legal challenges and re-counts play out. An official winner is declared state-by-state. And then after the outcome is finally made official by the Electoral College on Monday, December 14, 2020. So, business leaders should be prepared for the emotional toll and distraction to continue for weeks more. All while the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. is topping 10 million cases and closing in on a quarter million deaths.
What Should Leaders Do About Employee Election Stress?
Leaders and managers are not powerless to help employees manage their anxieties. Those in leadership roles can make a difference and it won’t even cost anything. Here are four actions you can take.
Encourage employees to take mental health days.
Start by taking one yourself. Employees may not tell you, but many are fearful of taking a day off to care for their emotional wellbeing, versus taking a day off after running a marathon. Hasn’t the election been an emotional marathon? Hasn’t 2020 been an emotional hyper-marathon? So set an example. By the way, do you know how many of your employees have large banks of vacation time because the pandemic has ruined plans for trips, holidays, family get-togethers, and other recreation? Encourage them to use their paid time off. It’s a great investment in their wellbeing.
Create a safe place for expression.
No one – including your employees – wants political discussions at work to turn into verbal hand-to-hand combat, or worse. But at the same time, being intimidated or fearful to mention your feelings generated by the election and its outcomes to other team members is also not emotionally healthy. Examine what your organization’s guidelines and policies are for discussing politics. Do they create a reasonable balance and are they known to your employees?
Empower yourself and your managers to provide support for employees.
Surveys consistently say that when employees feel supported by their managers, their engagement with their employer and its mission increases. This support is needed now more than ever with our challenges of the pandemic and its consequences and the election. Show this support by having more one-to-ones where practical and stay engaged with understanding their workloads. And don’t forget to encourage mental health days and taking that bank of paid time off.
Remind employees (or students in the case of educational institutions) of their assistance programs.
Employee Assistance Programs or Student Assistance Programs can provide valuable mental health resources. Now is a great time for you and/or those on your management team with responsibility for assistance programs to visit with your providers. Partner with them to make sure your employees (or students) know your leadership team is encouraging their use as safe, confidential resources now and in the coming weeks.
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.
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American Psychological Association