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How companies can support employees during difficult times

By 

 — January 26th, 2021

How companies can support employees during difficult times

Many leaders believe that businesses shouldn’t weigh in on politics.

But what happens when social and political unrest are all your employees can think about?

Last year, Gartner surveys showed that presidential campaigning in the U.S. negatively affected morale, collaboration, and productivity. After voting day in November's Presidential election, 64% of employees said the results made them feel anxious. Employees in the EU and U.K had a similar response.

In recent weeks, US employees have been navigating feelings around the riots and storming of the Capitol, as well as the inauguration of a new president. Many have reported that it’s been difficult to be motivated and focused at work during this time.

How to create great leadership communication for difficult times

You may not be able to change the political climate, but you can work with leadership to find ways to support employees during challenging times. Here’s what we recommend.

Acknowledge and Recognize the Anxiety

It may be tempting to plod on as usual. Indeed, some employees may cope with stress by throwing themselves into their work. Others may feel paralyzed with anxiety. No matter how individual employees are responding, it’s essential to acknowledge stressful circumstances.

Recognizing and acknowledging stress and anxiety eases discomfort because it reminds employees they’re not alone– and it’s very easy to do. Here are a few ways you can acknowledge the stress of the moment:

  • Share your own anxiety with your team in an email, chat message, or video call.
  • Encourage those in leadership roles– CEOs, VPs, and department heads– to acknowledge the situation and express their understanding of the stress.
  • Consider offering time off as new events trigger anxiety. For example, some CEOs told their teams to take off the afternoon after the riots in the U.S. Capitol, knowing it would be difficult to concentrate.

Create Space for Conversations

Although many people try to steer clear of political discussions, 84% of U.S. employees reported discussing politics at work, according to a Gartner survey. Even so, it can be hard for your team to know when and how to share.

Here are a few types of conversations to facilitate:

  • Small group dialogue - As a company leader, you can help facilitate conversations between small groups of employees. It’s key to make sure that these conversations have clearly defined goals. For example, the goal might be to create a better understanding of differences or to create a plan for how to move forward. It’s also essential to provide guidelines– for example, reminding employees that this is a conversation, not a debate, and that interrupting will not be tolerated.
  • One-on-ones - Managers regularly chat with their reports in a one-on-one format. These conversations provide the perfect opportunity to check in to see how someone is doing amidst the turmoil of the political client.
  • Ad-hoc - Encourage employees to reach out to their peers to discuss their feelings as they see fit. As a company leader, you don’t have to organize these conversations. Simply reminding your team members that they have each other will jumpstart conversations.

Provide Communication Guidelines

It can be tough to talk about current events, especially when they feel personal. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every employee, making political events more difficult to stomach. In this climate, it’s essential to provide communication guidelines to your team. The goal of these guidelines is to give them a structure for how to talk through difficult events.

Guidelines should be as specific as possible and might include prohibited language or activities or expectations on how often discussions will take place. Reminding employees that conversations are conversations, not debates, is important. So is establishing clear consequences for breaching these guidelines. For example, if an employee interrupts another, they’ll have to leave the meeting.

Resist the Urge to Gloss Over or Deny Feelings of Loss

Everyone has lost something in the past year. Many have lost loved ones. Others have lost plans for the future or an office away from the chaos of home. Denying these losses by pretending that everything will one day go back to normal can actually alienate your team.

“Any declarations of reassurance, comfort, and security carry the risk of signaling to your people that countervailing emotions aren’t acceptable—the exact opposite of what your team needs,” wrote Aaron De Smet, senior partner in McKinsey’s Houston office.

“Instead of glossing over the emotional challenges, seek to create psychological safety. Start by asking questions that invite and allow people to reflect on their experiences, acknowledge and recognize their feelings, and express their emotions.”

One Step at a Time...

The past year has been unspeakably hard for so many. Remember that supporting your employees is an ongoing process. As new events unfold, employees need to know that you’re in their corner, rooting for their success.

Work to offer better and better support… one step at a time.

Employee wellbeing during Covid-19: What we can learn from behavioural science
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