In the workplace, manage post-election stress to finish out the year strong

Rachel Sapoznik noticed stress levels in her office seemed higher than usual and employees anxious about post-election “what-ifs.” With her team headed into the busiest month of the year, she called an impromptu staff meeting.

“Change is creating uncertainty, and that creates anxiety about what’s ahead,” she told her team at Sapoznik Insurance in North Miami Beach. “I encourage you to communicate and ask for help if you need it.”

Like Sapoznik, many managers find themselves tasked with restoring workers’ nerves and addressing the post-election insecurity that has permeated their workplaces. For some people, the uncertainty of a new political administration — and anticipation of hardship — coupled with the usual December tumult has made it difficult to concentrate at work. For others, it is aggravating pre-existing mental and physical health conditions — including depression, anxiety and hypertension — and sapping productivity.

In South Florida, the distractions at work are difficult to ignore: Walk into Pipeline Workspaces, and television sets are tuned to CNN, deluging small business owners in the co-working space with pundits speculating about President-elect Donald Trump’s latest political appointments. Visit Miami law offices, and phones are ringing with immigrants anxious about their legal status. Roam the halls of South Florida businesses, and workers are obsessively refreshing Twitter for updates on how Fidel Castro’s death and Trump’s presidency might affect their lives.

“It doesn’t matter what side of the political spectrum you are on, uncertainty is a stressor and it has everyone anxious right now,” says Guillermo Wated, an industrial/organizational psychologist and professor at Barry University. Even before Americans voted in November, a survey of 3,500 adults by the American Psychological Association found that more than half of respondents felt stressed because of the election. “We know that stress affects health and well-being and work performance, and that’s where management needs to kick in,” Wated says.

For leaders, the challenge lies in how to keep staff members focused and motivated to finish out the year strong. Wated recommends re-emphasizing employees’ roles and how each person contributes to the common good of the organization: “They need to understand that if they provide a positive contribution in the workplace, that impacts our economy.”

Because stress is contagious in workplaces, some leaders sent out a blanket communication, reminding the staff of company values, respect for co-workers and big-picture perspective. In the days after the election, many CEOs — including Tim Cook of Apple and Jennifer Beber, president of Beber Silverstein Group in Miami — issued company-wide statements trying to reinforce a positive work culture.

In her email, Beber assured staff members that as a small business owner, she wants a culture that protects and institutionalizes individual differences.

“As a company, we will support causes and activities that will help protect these values, and we will fight those that undermine them, using all of our skills, talent and resources with 100% enthusiasm,” she wrote.

To help calm employees who remain stressed, managers are holding staff meetings, listening to concerns and showing empathy when appropriate. However, Wated warns against playing therapist and suggests that managers, instead, redirect employees to Employee Assistance Programs or trained professionals.

Sapoznik says she believes that as a leader, the most powerful thing you can do to support the energy in your team or organization is model healthy stress management. She has taken up meditation and is turning her conference room into a quiet room where employees can go to meditate, too.

Along with quiet zones, some managers are designating the lunch or break room as safe zones free of political talk, speculation and divisive conversation that could bruise office relationships.

For their part, some employees are trying harder to be more positive and focused on their jobs. Miami dental hygienist Liz Gomez was cleaning a patient’s teeth recently when she realized that “I just kept talking about the latest political happenings with whoever was in my chair and it was making me really anxious,” she says. Gomez says that now, she not only avoids anxiety-producing conversation with patients and co-workers, but she also stays off social media: “I need to be able to keep my mind on task.”

In other workplaces, employees are channeling angst into positive action by setting a year-end goal. Through taking on a project, striving to hit sales projections or leading the company toy drive, employees are improving their moods and office morale.

Many workplace wellness programs also are coaching people to recognize their stressors and manage them.

“There is a lot of worrying about what’s happening next, so we are giving employees tools and nudges to stay engaged,” says Ana Eberhard, brand marketing director for AvMed, which has launched a WELLfluent movement to encourage people to be mindful of health and happiness. Eberhard said that once people “get out of their own head,” the resulting perspective should help them finish the year out well.

Cindy Krischer Goodman writes on work life and workplace topics. balancegal@gmail.com, @balancegal or worklifebalancingact.com.