Late Tuesday night, as the count for Donald Trump ticked toward the required 270 electoral college votes, newscasts and social media were flooded with images of people welling up and breaking down. Half of Americans and many more observers worldwide felt gutted by Trump’s win.
The day after the election, one friend told me her workplace felt like a funeral; another grappled with how to talk about it with her high school students. Indeed, workplace grief has spiked in the days following the election. Plasticity Labs, a company that measures workplace happiness and offers solutions for improving it, tallied a 10% drop in happiness post-election across 40 companies they monitor. The “Trump effect” on workplace wellbeing is even more pronounced among women, who experienced a 12% drop in happiness.
Folks who reported low scores on the scale of 1 to 100 offered reasons like: “It’s November 9. Why do YOU think I’m unhappy?” And “Trump won. I’m numb.” And “Sad day for women.”
Anecdotally, Jennifer Moss, co-founder and CMO of Plasticity, says clients have told them they’ve had more people crying at work in the last week than ever. “That hopelessness is really hurting people,” says Moss. “We’ve even seen our staff feeling sick—headaches and describing anxiety. It’s tough.” That palpable sadness so many of us are feeling in the wake of the election isn’t just the product of shock and fear, says Moss, but the loss of hope. “It’s been a year and a half of a lot of negative news and people already feeling divided. That weighs on people,” she says. “When you have a place of hopefulness and you think that it’s going to be resolved and it isn’t, that that can trigger a crash.”
Moss adds that the ongoing sadness across workplaces isn’t just bad for employees’ mental health; it’s bad for companies, too. In fact, that speaks to Plasticity’s raison d’etre; the notion—backed by mounting evidence—that if you improve employee wellbeing, you improve productivity.
The best way to ensure employees maintain a healthy, productive mindset during unexpected negative events—as the election was for so many people—is to take a preventative approach, says Moss. “It’s about creating psychological fitness: building up resilience and optimism, because we know there’s going to be an event that’s going to shift people and we can’t avoid that,” she says. “If you’re responding to events in a reactionary way, that’s when people dip for two weeks and you lose them to some traumatic event.”
Still, companies should have systems in place to help employees cope when stress runs high. At Plasticity, staff write gratitude notes to help improve the mood—something as simple as telling a coworker something about them that makes you happy. “Employees who feel valued at work are happier and more engaged,” Moss points out. The company also gives employees time to work on projects that make them feel good.
Having employee assistance programs helps, too, says Moss. “There are people who, if they are prone to depression, there’s a potential for them to fall into a longer state of anxiety and sadness. You should encourage people to use support systems.”
Most importantly, says Moss, is encouraging staff to stay hopeful. Employees who focused on what they and their groups were doing well maintained higher happiness scores last week. Many happy workers are also thinking about the election in such a way that isn’t so immersive. “We’ve spent so much time thinking about and feeling it that it can feel like it’s become us. People have to dissect themselves from that feeling and find what it is that motivates them to then maybe impact some change in a positive way,” says Moss. “If people feel like they’re not doing anything, or they get lost in the feeling that they can’t make change, that can be debilitating.”
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- How Plasticity is hacking happiness to help companies work harder
- Why you should praise employees even when they’re doing badly
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- The unspoken loneliness of working from home
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