On Wednesday, January 6th, 2021, the U.S. Capitol was attacked by domestic terrorists. Their intent appeared to be disrupting Congress duly certifying the States’ electoral votes, and thereby the presidential election, a centuries-long tradition of peaceful transition of power in America.
Many rioters displayed confederate flags, pro-holocaust slogans and other racist messages. Some attacked police and others. Several people died.
Many of us watched it unfold in disbelief. Since then, we’ve seen more disturbing evidence and witnessed the fragility of our democracy. It has been traumatic for many just to observe.
After a year defined by unprecedented turmoil, we find ourselves in another collectively stressful moment. And somehow, we need to keep moving forward. For companies that want to create a positive employee experience (EX), it’s another reminder that our people need more support. We need to acknowledge the tough topics that are causing shared stress and offer resources that demonstrate care.
The Negative Impacts of Shared Stress on Employees
The employee experience is affected by more than internal policies, but also events and forces beyond workplace control. Sometimes, these stressors are shared. Other times, they are uniquely felt by specific groups. It’s actually difficult to know how any one person will process any traumatic event. What companies can control is their response, something that directly impacts the employee experience for better or worse.
In the case of the Capitol insurrection, some Americans felt shock. Some, probably including those in BIPOC communities, experienced less shock and more exhaustion, frustration and sadness at the racism, ignorance and fragility that fueled the event. People viewed the event through many different lenses: politics, caste, education, fascism, constitutional law and more.
In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic fundamentally changed how we work and interact with others. It’s taking a toll. Burnout is on the rise and well-being is suffering. Some industries are experiencing a staggering form of collective trauma — a recent survey found that 93% of healthcare workers were experiencing stress, 77% reported frustration, 76% reported exhaustion and burnout, and 75% said they were overwhelmed. We’re finding that racial and ethnic minorities are facing outsized negative impacts, from disproportionate death rates to higher social vulnerability. Adding stressors like the terrifying events at the Capitol only exacerbates our mental health crisis.
How to Support Employees Through Moments of Shared Stress
Employees need resources, validation and a sense that they are understood in their workplaces, but companies may feel unsure of when and how to address employee well-being through uncharted territory. Here’s how employers can alleviate the stressors on employees and provide stability through tough moments:
1. Acknowledge the impact of an event or stressor
Silence now, and in other times of shared stress, is not neutrality — it means ignoring the very real anxiety of employees. To show people they care, companies need to acknowledge the human impact, especially when it comes to the diverse experiences that impact employee reactions. Acknowledge the distraction also: Pretending work can move forward undisturbed is unrealistic — let people know it’s OK to have some flexibility in accomplishing tasks. Show them that you understand how challenging these times are and that you care about them and are there for them if they need more support.
2. Offer company-provided, externally validated resources
Each shared stressor requires a unique approach. COVID-19 called for increased flexibility to help employees cope. The violence at the Capitol requires deeper learning — not just about the event itself but its underlying causes. Generate a repository of content and tools designed to deepen knowledge and help people feel less alone. And don’t just use it following tough moments, make it a company priority moving forward.
3. Leaders: Take a break so your employees know they can as well
Don’t just encourage employees to take a break — model the behavior. Sustainable work practices are good for well-being, and when modeled by leaders, they improve engagement, work satisfaction and retention.
4. Communicate what you know so people can build from there
Even when norms are challenged and uncertainty feels rampant, communicate what you know as a company. It might be a new policy you plan to implement. It could be as simple as outlining the various eventualities with concrete action plans so employees can feel prepared. A little stability could make a big difference.
5. Listen to employee voices — and take action that aligns with company values
Oftentimes, listening to employees is the best way to know whether your company is holding to its stated values. If you ask for honesty, bravery and creativity in business, make sure you hold up your end of the bargain. Companies like Twitter are in the middle of this process — ultimately, employee voices helped the company hold to its stated values. Gather feedback, open employee forums and if necessary, make changes to show that values are more than lip service, but words to live by.
When your company is ready for a comprehensive way to demonstrate employee care, learn about the Limeade platform.