There’s no question that 2020 has been a year unlike any other.
From the enduring impact of COVID-19 and the ongoing reckoning with systemic racism, to the relentless vitriolic and divisive political discourse, this year feels like a bad dream that’s impossible to wake up from.
We’re also facing fallout from the most important election in our lifetime, one that galvanized at least 84 million people to vote early nationwide – and that may mean a longer wait before we know who the next U.S. president will be. With all this instability and uncertainty, it’s understandable that 2020 has left many of us depleted, despondent and looking for ways to process and cope.
In “normal” times, any one of these stressors would make it difficult for staff at mission-driven organizations to have their heads and hearts fully immersed in their work. Now, with as many as 42% of employed people working from home full-time, the lines between our personal and professional spaces are blurrier than ever. It’s essential for organizational leaders to have a post-election plan to support your teams, no matter the outcome.
Here are some ways leaders can help staff who might struggle to balance the emotions of the election with the need to function at work:
Make space. Some people may still be processing the election outcome (either way) and the range of emotions that comes with it. Some may want to do that alone, while others may yearn to do it with their colleagues. No matter where your staffers fall on that spectrum, there’s a high chance they’ll be distracted, so make space for people to cope however they need to.
To make that space, consider holding an optional all-staff Zoom call with an open agenda, or keeping a Zoom line open all day for people to drop in and connect with each other.
And since good teams are interconnected, anticipate the overall impact of some people not being able to do their best work the day after – or maybe even until every vote is counted, and the path forward is clearer. Consider how you can adjust meetings and deadlines. That 9 a.m. meeting the day after the election – make it later if you can. The report that’s due first thing that day – extend the deadline if it’s possible.
Your leadership is important here, because everyone may not be comfortable asking for what they need or have the ability to shift their calendar as easily as you can. It’s on you to make it easier for them.
Show empathy and understanding. This election is being cast as a referendum on two starkly different visions of this country, including who has a right to belong, be safe and be valued. While everyone can feel passionately about these existential questions, people of color disproportionately continue to bear the brunt of hate, othering and systemic oppression. And for many, it’s traumatic. For people of color, the LGBTQI+ community and other communities who are marginalized, Election Day will be a pivotal moment in their fight for justice, equity and safety. Organizational leaders may not know how the constant attacks feel directly, but they should lead with empathy and understanding that to some, this will feel very personal.
Say something. Great leaders know their words matter, especially during times of crisis. They don’t act like nothing’s new when there are seismic shifts happening around them. Instead, they provide context and vision that helps to remind their teams why they and their mission matters even more during disruptive times.
We’ve been in the midst of a crisis, and this election will have a tremendous impact on how and if things get better. Make clear that the lines of communication are open, and people can look to you for vision, openness and vulnerability to help make sense of it all. And remember, you don’t have to have all the answers.
As we all navigate the uncertainty of this year and the unique circumstances of this election season, please use these guiding principles to support your post-election plan. While we don’t know what’s to come, we know that to take care of others, we must start by taking care of ourselves. For mission-driven organizations, it is crucial for leaders to support their teams in this moment as we work to advance justice in our communities.