The American workplace has had 10 days to absorb the most surprising presidential election in our lifetimes.
Since then, the full range of human emotion, from grief to glee, has played out in offices, shops and warehouses—a volatile mix that caused arguments and some violence among co-workers.
HR has been called in to answer questions it could never have imagined (Doescover election-induced depression?). And saw an increase in calls that was led by a “Facebook-fueled sadness spiral,” says Philippe Weiss, managing director of Seyfarth Shaw’s workplace consulting arm.
CEOs quickly wrote emails—either encouraged by their HR departments or actually written by them—aimed at easing the post-Trumpquake intraoffice tension.
“This election may have strained our emotions, but not our bonds with one another. Though the state of our politics may have changed last night, our character as individuals remains the same. And so should the way we respect one another and take care of each other,” wrote Oscar Munoz, CEO of United Airlines.
Other CEOs didn’t handle the task as gracefully. GrubHub’s founder, Matt Maloney, sent an email saying he rejects the “nationalistic, anti-immigrant and hateful politics of Donald Trump … If you do not agree with this statement then please reply to this email with your resignation because you have no place here.” He has since walked back his quit-if-your-a-Trumper request.
A lesson in dealing with emotions
For HR and managers on the front lines, these past 10 days have had less to do with politics and more to do with people. When they walk in your door each day, "people" automatically become "employees" and we expect them to check their feelings at the door. Emotions at work, some would say, are unprofessional, out of place or simply wrong.
In reality, though, emotions are what make us human, and managing people requires knowing how to respond to their emotions. As we noted in a recent issue of our Manager’s Legal Bulletin, here are four things that any supervisor or HR professional should remember when facing a highly charged emotional issue in the workplace:
- Emotions are real. We’ve been conditioned to believe that emotions are different from “facts.” But when you feel your heart racing, that's an objective biological reality caused by emotions. Never feel foolish about asking employees, “How do you feel about this?” And, just as important, ask yourself, “How do I feel about it?”
- Emotions can’t be shared. Though we talk about “sharing” our emotions, what we mean is expressing those feelings. We can’t expect employees will feel the same way we do about a particular situation. We can, however, understand how someone else feels if we discuss those feelings openly. There’s really no other way.
- Emotions precede thoughts. Emotional responses are typically a person’s first response. It’s better for managers to allow for an initial emotional reaction—both from their employees and from themselves—whenever there is a change or crisis. Acknowledging those feelings openly gives our emotions a chance to resolve themselves, allowing us to move into a more analytical mode for actual problem solving.
- Emotions are signals. Very few people have emotional reactions for no reason. When employees are happy, we want to think they’re clearly satisfied with their work life. But when the same employees are angry, we often want to believe they’re just “blowing off steam.” Instead, we should assume such emotions are real danger signs, and that we need to figure out—or ask—what the employees need to not feel threatened or deprived.
The bottom line: Your workplace is just that … a place for work. You can, and should, set standards that require employees to act in a professional, respectful and nondiscriminatory manner. But remember that wherever there are people, there are emotions. Making room for employees’ feelings and emotional reactions will not only ease the tension level among co-workers, it will help your workers build a stronger employer-employee bond and loyalty to the company.
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