Any U.S. presidential election can cause distraction and stress among employees, but add in a global pandemic, social unrest and natural disasters, and it’s likely employees may be feeling even more uncertain and anxious this year, no matter which side of the aisle they fall on. We sat down with Joni Roylance, Employee Experience Leader at North Highland, to learn more what employers should and shouldn’t do following the 2020 U.S. presidential election.
2020 has been a tough year on both employers and employees. Following the election, what can employers do to make sure their workforce feels supported?
Make sure to keep your focus on employees and what they say they need (not what you think they need)—doing so will ensure you get the best outcomes. Programmatically make sure you establish voice of employee programs to regularly collect information about their experience—and avoid over-reliance on surveys as people are very weary of these. Normalize and openly provide guidance on what self-care may look like at this time--I.e., let employees take a day off if they need it, or schedule an hour during their workday to simply process their response. Connect with employees you observe may be struggling and ask how you can provide them support. Then, follow through with what they share as soon as you can if it is within the realm of possibility/appropriate to do so. Be prepared that employees may not ask for anything and know that just asking the question can sometimes provide all the value that’s needed.
What should leaders consider? How do they find the balance between allowing employees to express themselves without alienating other colleagues?
I highly recommend leaders come together and take 30 minutes to articulate what is and is not acceptable/allowable for these topics in your culture. Essentially, establish some guiding principles for your teams in what you consider to be healthy and productive discussion—and communicate them as soon as possible. I strongly recommend against asking people not to discuss it—but if you prefer to manage the setting in which these take place, provide some specific and optional time for people who are interested in further discussion to come together with a skilled moderator to facilitate the conversation related to the broader opportunity, such as the value of hard-won civil rights and civic engagement, instead of on a specific outcome about a candidate.
How do you keep your workforce engaged when there is a myriad of external stressors, including election results, fighting for their attention?
Being an employee at a company, and a leader within it, is so dynamic right now—and that means taking things day by day in terms of employee support and engagement. Think about what new routines you can create that allow people to acknowledge their experience daily. I have seen some teams start every meeting with a status check of thumbs up, down, and neutral. There's no conversation about it—it just allows people to acknowledge that every day does not have to be a thumbs up day (and managers can follow up individually with folks who are a consistent thumbs down). Also, getting your employees to share and celebrate daily wins—no matter how small, will help people stay focused on motivating facts versus getting dragged down in the negative, which slows or paralyzes productivity. Just ask, “what happened today that made you feel good?”
What’s one mistake that you see employers make when dealing with divisive issues internally?
It might be tempting to share your personal experience, especially if you share political beliefs with your employee, but stay focused on them to ensure the best results. It’s very human to get sucked in—whether it’s the political topics or wanting to “protect” employees where you have strong connections. Staying neutral and acting as a mediator to help people be authentic and also focus on their work is what’s needed. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted by the conversation—stay close to your role as a leader helping to guide people to doing their best work. Some language that might be useful, “I understand right now is a time with a lot of emotions, and I’d like to set up time with you later to further discuss those. For this meeting I need to redirect our focus to X/Y/Z.” Make sure your connection time is equally distributed among people with varying beliefs and responses to demonstrate equitable focus and support.
Want to learn more about how to keep your employees engaged and the shifting paradigms of the employer/employee relations? Check out the additional reading material below: