CEOs, now is the time to reach out to your employees


The 2020 presidential election has shown just how divided, angry and politically energized Americans have become.

It also has spurred fear, anxiety and exhaustion, not to mention a constant twitchy need to check our phones, computers and televisions for the latest developments.

It’s all proving a huge distraction for people at work. Even after the votes have been counted, the next few months are likely going to be an anxious, volatile period for everyone.

That’s why now is a good time for CEOs and other leaders to reach out to their employees, said Jocelyn Kung, CEO of The Kung Group, a leadership coaching and organizational consulting firm. “This is affecting people at such a visceral level.”

    And that can lead to lower productivity, anger, passive-aggressive behavior or other negative ways of handling conflict at work.

    “Even if someone doesn’t look upset or anxious, they probably are under the surface,” Kung said.

    Reaching out — in writing and in meetings — can accomplish a few things if done right.

    First, you can let employees know that you understand how tough this period is for everyone. Empathy, if sincere, is a powerful way to connect with your staff.

    Leaders throughout an organization should give space in any meeting to ask people how they’re feeling. “No one likes ambiguity. Invite that anxiety into the room and let it breathe,” Kung recommends.

    The same goes for any note you may send to staff. Todd McKinnon, CEO and cofounder of cloud service provider Okta, reassured employees in an email that no matter their political leanings, “you belong at Okta.”

    “The ongoing election process and subsequent outcome will affect everyone differently. We’re aware, we’re here for you, and we encourage you to lean on your manager and [the company’s mental health] resources if you need someone to talk to,” McKinnon wrote the day after the election.

    Reaching out to employees now is also an opportunity to reinforce company values and expectations, such as the need for civil discourse no matter how emotional or controversial a situation may be.

    Delta Airlines CEO Ed Bastian hit those notes in his Election Day memo to employees titled “A Time for Unity.”

    “[I]t’s vital that we always listen and empathize, but it’s also important to know that disrespectful behavior toward our employees or customers by anyone will never be tolerated,” Bastian wrote.

    And lastly, it’s an opportunity to remind and encourage employees to continue working toward a common purpose. “CEOs have to become a unifying and non-anxious presence,” Kung noted.

      Tim Ryan, chairman of PwC, urged his employees the day after the election to focus on what was within their power, even though the world felt very unsettled.

      “I want to ask all of us to remember what has enabled our successes of the past year — and that is to focus on what we can control,” Ryan wrote. “[W]hat we can control is serving our clients, meeting their needs and taking care of each other. My ask is that we do our best to pull together as a team and stay focused on these as the election results continue to come in.”