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Leadership: Here’s how to support employees amid ongoing election uncertainty

It's not over, and when it is, your employees may need time to process the results. Organizational leaders from across the mid-Atlantic share advice for managing your teams after an intense presidential election season.

(Clockwise from top left) Dan Rhoton, Tamara Rasberry, Sally Guzik, Uva Coles. (Image by Julie Zeglen via Canva)

After a stressful Election Day, as expected, we still don’t know who won the 2020 presidential election.

That means you’re likely feeling more stress than usual today, and figuring out how to deal with that at work. But if you’re in a management position, you also need to be attuned to how your employees as feeling.

From giving time off to listening to their concerns, organizational leaders are finding ways to support their teams in the days following the election: Five leaders from around the mid-Atlantic told how they’re supporting employees following the general election.

Give employees space to process the previous day’s events.

The lessons are similar to those after this summer’s high-profile police killings and the resulting civil unrest: Address current events with compassion and plans of action. But in this case, inaction in the form of rest may also be appreciated.

Renata Kowalczyk, the CEO of Delaware economic development nonprofit Wilmington Alliance, has given her team entire team off for the morning of Nov. 4. Regardless of the election’s outcome, employees will have the space to process it, and a weekly team meeting on Wednesday afternoon will give employees the space to share how they’re feeling.

Whether organizations discuss politics in the workplace or not, allowing employees to show up as their whole selves matters in cultivating a healthy work environment, Kowalczyk said.

“We stay out of politics, however, we encourage everyone on our team to bring their whole self to work,” she said. “So, to honor that we may need to start our meeting by giving everyone a safe space to express where they are mentally and emotionally, on that day.”

D.C.-based human resources consultant Tamara Rasberry believes having a post-election plan is key for employers. She agreed that giving employees the day off following the election is in companies’ best interest.

“I would definitely recommend that all employers plan for this ahead of time and not just wait until after the election to think about whether they should say something to their staff about it,” she said. “Elections are highly emotional events in general, even more now with the pandemic, civil unrest, rampant racism, etc. Depending on the organization or type of company, you may want to consider giving staff a day off or mental health day the day after the election. Whether the person you voted for wins or not, the aftermath will be intense.”

Organizations need to consistently support the community — not just during election year.

Dan Rhoton of Hopeworks Camden, a New Jersey nonprofit that helps young people build tech skills, said supporting the youth his organization works with and the community they live in starts with listening to their needs and mental health support.

“The election may be the last thing some of our young people are worried about right now,” said the executive director. “Our young people are dealing with massive unemployment, escalating deaths from COVID, growing community violence, and resurgent white supremacist and anti-immigrant sentiment. Of course, a Trump win would feel disastrous to many, but we are also well aware that any violence, economic dislocation or other consequences from a disputed election will — like COVID — hit our communities first.”

Rhoton said that many of the problems Hopeworks’ staff and and members face will not go away after the election. As a result, maintaining a strong support system built around listening and following through on goals like getting young people into living-wage jobs is even more important.

“At its core, Hopeworks is about getting young people into living-wage jobs so they can support themselves and their communities,” he said. “The hard economic conditions in our communities won’t change on Nov. 4. Thus, we have to stay laser-focused on delivering on that promise for our young people.”

Hopeworks youth. (Photo via

Create a safe space at your company that can handle any outcome.

Sally Guzik is the general manager of Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC) Philadelphia, a University City-based office, lab and coworking space. CIC signed Day for Democracy, a pledge and nonpartisan initiative designed to increase voter registration. As part of the pledge, Nov. 3 was a company holiday for all U.S. employees in order to allow employees the time needed the vote where they live.

“A Day for Democracy provides resources for employees to check the voter registration status and deadlines, learn about requesting absentee ballots in your state, as well as information about how to sign up to work the polls on election day,” she said. “Many of our centers are also engaged in local efforts around the election, from QR codes linking to voter registration pages to partnering with organizations that work with non-citizens to find ways to be civically engaged.”

Guzik is prepared to not know the outcome of the 2020 election on Nov. 4. While that may be stressful for employees, she believes fostering a safe workplace culture can provide stability in an uncertain moment.

“I understand that [uncertainty] may create fear, anxiety, and even more discomfort for our staff and clients after such an already tumultuous year,” she said. “Creating a space and center of gravity that encourages dialogue, support, and resources will remain important to us through this time as it is through COVID. Teaching empathy and critical thinking still require human connection and experience sharing.”

Find a way to maintain a sense of optimism.

Inclusiva Global president and CEO Uva Coles is a native of Panama, a country that slowly transitioned from a democracy into a dictatorship under General Manuel Noriega. When she was 17, she moved to the United States with “two suitcases and a dream.” For her, coming to the United States’ democracy was a refuge and has allowed her to build a family and a career.

Over the past four years, Coles said that has struggled when thinking about how the strong, democratic country in which she built her future has shifted into something more nebulous.

“I’ve had this nagging sense of déjà vu,” said the Philadelphian. “I’ve watched political norms disrupted, civil liberties undermined, divides across differences — especially race — intentionally made wider, deeper, seemingly insurmountable. I have watched politicians and political pundits alike normalize despicable behavior and use euphemisms to ‘pretty-fy’ and explain the inexplicable — the sexist, the misogynist, the xenophobic, the racist. Blatant bias and lies have been bent, made more palatable by a newer frame — alternative facts and disinformation. I’ve listened to the crescendo of a people’s raised voices and protest become the syncopated beat behind a dictatorship’s soundtrack.”

As an Afro-Latina mother of two Black sons and wife of a Black man, Coles has grown weary from a year that saw the Black lives of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Walter Wallace Jr. taken by police brutality. While it is not easy to do, she maintains a sense of optimism in the value of American democracy.

“Democracy is our collective refuge,” she said. “Let’s shelter in place together, under its canopy, and rather than engaging in a new tug-of-war, let’s lift our healing hands up and hold it up, hold each other up. Today we acknowledge — though our nation’s hands and heart may be bruised, they are not broken.”

Michael Butler is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.
Companies: Wilmington Alliance / Cambridge Innovation Center / Hopeworks
Series: Election 2020

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