Employees stressed over election uncertainty? Here’s how to help

Communication, empathy and flexibility can help keep employees’ anxieties at bay.
By: | November 4, 2020 • 3 min read
(Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)

Employees were already dealing with a perfect storm of anxiety and stress: COVID-19, social unrest and anxiety leading up to the election have all taken their toll. And now, with the election still not decided post-Election Day, stress levels for many workers are rising even further.

“Everyone is saying this is perhaps the most pivotal election of this century or the century before. There was an enormous amount of stress already, and basically, you couldn’t construct a worse ending than to have it spill over into today,” says Andrew Shatte, chief knowledge officer and co-founder of meQuilibrium, a digital coaching program that aims to build employees’ resilience. “Realizing there isn’t an answer here one way or another is almost worse.”

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Uncertainty is especially problematic for employees’ wellbeing and resilience. Election uncertainty adds to the uncertainty employees feel about COVID-19—they don’t know when the pandemic will end, they don’t know if they’ll get sick, they don’t know how secure their jobs are, they don’t know how much longer they will have to be on partial lockdown or homeschool their children.

“That uncertainty in and of itself puts us under a lot of stress—and now this. Even if your guy loses, at least you’ve got certainty in one part of your life,” he says. “This makes it even worse.”

Related: Employers are making mental health strides—why they shouldn’t let up

That uncertainty often takes a toll on employees: They don’t get enough sleep; they’re less productive at work; they don’t eat well; they might abuse alcohol. “All this creates a real dip in wellbeing,” he says. “It’s affecting us as employees; it’s affecting us as people.”

“All this creates a real dip in wellbeing. It’s affecting us as employees; it’s affecting us as people.” Andrew Shatte

Given the toll the election is taking on employees, should employers get involved? Shatte says absolutely—as long as they keep specific politics out of it.

“I think sometimes supervisors and managers shy away from getting involved in these sorts of things. They don’t seem like they’re mission-critical. But now there’s a tendency to look at the holistic person more and more,” Shatte says. Employers first and foremost can and should acknowledge the stress employees are presumably under. Supervisors can reach out and say things like, “This couldn’t be tougher,” he says. “Because it doesn’t matter what side of the political fence you’re on; this is a tough thing to go through.”

Now is also a good time to tout mental health resources available to employees. Larry Dunivan, CEO of software firm Namely, sent an email to employees Wednesday reminding them they can talk to a counselor through the company’s employee assistance program or do meditation through its wellness program. “Take the time you need today to breathe deeply and let the process that’s served us well for more than 200 years continue to guide us to the best place for our country,” he wrote.

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Shatte says it’s a good idea to tell employees it’s understandable that they might be glued to the news today and be distracted from work. But employers also can give workers specific tasks that are high-priority so they can focus on what they need to and give them flexibility for what part of the day they want to work on it. “Something like that, that shows empathy and flexibility, has been shown, as a management style, to make a huge difference in the health and wellbeing, even down to the quality of sleep, in employees,” he says.

Kathryn Mayer is HRE’s benefits editor and chair of the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference. She has covered benefits for the better part of a decade, and her stories have won multiple awards, including a Jesse H. Neal Award and honors from the American Society of Business Publication Editors and the National Federation of Press Women. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Denver. She can be reached at kmayer@lrp.com.