We’re just a few days away from the presidential election, and I’ve been thinking a lot about what that means for organizations that are striving to be anti-racist and anti-oppressive. I’ve seen all kinds of affirmations on social media and in various articles that it’s okay to feel, it’s okay to be overwhelmed, and it’s okay to slow down. Saying those things, though, doesn’t make them so, and up until this point, a lot of responsibility has been placed on the individual to make space for feeling and slowing down. I can’t help but wonder: how can employers show up for their employees and their communities? How can they take on the responsibility of making “spaciousness” happen?
Let’s take a page out of the pandemic’s book. In April, I ran out of my favorite shampoo so I ordered some online. I immediately received an email informing me that it would take up to two weeks to ship because their operations had slowed down in order to accommodate a safer work environment for their employees. I recognize that a shampoo company is not providing a product or service as essential as, for example, medically necessary medications or supplies. But never before had I received such an email from a corporation, where profits and production were so directly compromised to support employee and community well-being. It took a global pandemic and, in many cases, government regulation, to disrupt business practices that value profits and economic growth over the health and well-being of people.
Six months later, we’re at the cusp of a fraught U.S. presidential election and we’re mostly back to regular production. There’s no slowing down, definitely not nearly to the same extent as the first COVID-19 wave in the spring. Meanwhile, we’re all dealing with the sustained, long-term stress of isolation, increased health risks for ourselves and the people we love, exhaustion from an unprecedented call to action for caretakers who are homeschooling or who are the only lifeline for an aging family member or friend. So many people are dealing with sustained financial hardship, estimates of food insecurity are through the roof, and now we’re facing an election that could have severe consequences for most people living in the United States, especially people who are from nondominant or marginalized groups. Thank goodness, though, that I can get my shampoo delivered to me overnight.
What can companies do proactively?
There’s the obvious starting point, give people paid time to vote. Not their vacation time or PTO; we’re talking about additional paid time specific for voting. You could even throw in paid volunteer time or “civic engagement” hours for employees who want to help get out the vote or participate in other ways, like volunteering at a local food shelf.
You can also ensure every employee understands the benefits and resources the company provides by repeatedly reminding your workforce about your Invest EAP subscription, wellness programs that can support employees in managing stress, options for family and medical leave, scheduling flexibility or options for reduced hours, options for payroll advances or internal loans, and more. You also should encourage people to use their time off before burnout. Hopefully, not only are you already providing these support systems for your employees, you’re proactively encouraging people to use them. If not, make 2021 the year your company launches a whole new set of benefits and a corresponding culture shift.
Here’s the thing no one is talking about, though… Tell people it’s okay to be less productive in the coming weeks. In fact, encourage your employees to plan for it. Ask your supervisors to help by canceling unessential meetings and by working with staff to identify what can be let go or what communications or systems could be established to help lessen the load. Think lean: what is absolutely essential to our work that needs to be done? Ask supervisors to do the same with their own workloads, and to create space in their jobs to support employees as needed. If folks choose to focus on work projects as a coping mechanism, that’s fine, but look for the ways in which that choice impacts the to-do lists of others. Invite cross-departmental cross-training and collaboration. If marketing can take it slow for a few weeks, maybe they can help reduce the workload for shipping and receiving. If it makes sense to hire a few temps to help through inauguration, take time to look for the resources in your budget or to approach a major donor.
Do your best as a company to challenge that “busy” or “hectic” workplace vibe. This doesn’t mean scheduling people for fewer paid hours, especially if your workforce is hourly; in fact, that would likely only trigger greater anxiety and stress. I’m talking about accepting less productivity for the same number of hours worked, and thinking about your organization as a community.
It’s unclear how long this election will remain unresolved and what lasting impacts it will have for people, especially through inauguration depending on the results. Be resonant with the experiences of your teams and colleagues. Your company doesn’t have to abandon ship, but you should be implementing strategies for slowing down, demanding less, and showing up more.