A massive 68% of employees would consider quitting their current job and working with an organisation with a stronger viewpoint on the social issues that matter most to them.

This is one of the findings from Gartner’s February 2021 Post-Election Survey of 3 000 employees, which also found that employees whose employer has taken a strong stance on current societal and cultural issues are twice as likely to report high job satisfaction.

“Times of social and political change and uncertainty affect individuals across their lives, and introduce distraction, disruption and division into the workplace,” says Brian Kropp, chief of research in the Gartner HR practice. “The recent events at the US Capitol on 6 January, the U.S. presidential election, Black Lives Matter movement and Brexit, have created numerous opportunities for increased tension among employees.”

To manage employee productivity and engagement during times of social uncertainty and disruption, Gartner advises HR leaders to:

* Help employees understand workplace emotions and manage interactions.

* Create safe spaces for productive conversations.

* Identify ways to take action in line with organisational culture.

Manage Negative Emotions

Current societal and political events elicit a range of powerful emotions. As employees’ work and personal lives continue to blur, it is increasingly difficult to leave emotion out of the workplace.

In November 2020, more than one-third of US employees (36%) reported that the US presidential election had led them to argue about politics with co-workers. Forty-four percent of employees said the election had led them to avoid talking to, or working with, a co-worker.

Employees are likely to turn to their managers for support, however many managers are ill-equipped to handle these conversations. Gartner research shows that nearly two thirds of managers (64%) have not been provided with resources for navigating political discussions with the employees they manage.

HR leaders should work with managers to model appropriate behaviors and set the right tone — while reducing the stigma of openly discussing mental well-being — by speaking candidly about their own experience. Leaders, managers and employees are all facing extreme fatigue following a long year of unrest. Managers can clarify work priorities for their team and recalibrate expectations to focus on only the most essential issues now.

Enable Productive Discussions

According to a recent Gartner survey, 84% of US employees reported discussing politics in the workplace.

However, it is often difficult for an employee to understand when, where and how to share thoughts and feelings about societal and cultural events. By creating spaces for productive conversations, organisations can provide a forum where employees feel safe to express themselves.

However, HR leaders must establish standards and norms of communication, encourage employees to focus on common goals and set examples of respect and civility.

As HR leaders consider how to manage these conversations, it is important to consider the balance between formal conversations led by leadership and informal, small-group or one-on-one conversations between individual employees.

“Organisations operating in a hybrid or largely remote working environment should carefully consider how to create opportunities for dialogue among employees that don’t escalate emotional reactions or increase communication fatigue,” says Kropp.

Communicate an Action Plan to Employees

In the US, over two-thirds (69%) of employees were very satisfied when their organisations took action in response to the protests and demonstrations against racial injustice, compared to 50% who were very satisfied when their organisations issued a public statement.

HR leaders can work with their communications leaders and other internal stakeholders to communicate to employees a message that does four things:

* Acknowledges employees’ distraction and feelings and shares resources with employees and managers on how to handle stress and conflict.

* Shares a plan for productive conversations.

* Reiterates the organisation’s core values.

* Identifies future steps the organisation will take.