The American workplace has now had about two weeks 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.
Human resources departments have been called in to answer questions they could never have previously imagined (Does our leave policy cover election-induced depression?). And employee assistance programs saw an increase in calls that was led by a Facebook-fueled sadness spiral, says Philippe Weiss, managing director of Seyfarth Shaws workplace consulting arm.
CEOs quickly wrote emails sometimes with the encouragement of their HR offices 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 didnt handle the task as gracefully. GrubHubs 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.
For HR and managers on the front lines, the post-election period has had less to do with politics and more to do with people. When they walk in the office 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. 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. Weve been conditioned to believe that emotions are different from facts. But when you feel your heart racing, thats 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 cant be shared. Though we talk about sharing our emotions, what we mean is expressing those feelings. We cant 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. Theres really no other way.
Emotions precede thoughts. Emotional responses are typically a persons first response. Its 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 theyre clearly satisfied with their work life. But when the same employees are angry, we often want to believe theyre 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.