Ann Barlow
Ann Barlow

The thing that makes us special, makes us human, is our capacity to feel. Our emotions are our superpower, and yet we spend a lot of time and energy trying to bury, ignore, pretend that they don’t exist.

Four years ago, workplaces were disrupted following the surprising outcome of the presidential election. In 2020, emotions and discourse are running significantly hotter as millions believing nothing less than the future of the country and safety of its people are at stake.

Using our propriety Mindset.AI solution, Peppercomm identified, tracked and predicted how the candidates’ supporters will react to the election. Fueled by AI and designed specifically to derive crisis-focused emotional states, Mindset.AI analyzes millions of conversations drawn from thousands of varied sources to identify the presidential candidates’ supporters in both 2016 and 2020.

This article is featured in O'Dwyer's Nov. '20 Technology PR Magazine
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The emotional tide is high

The 2016 election sparked disruption in many workplaces, and 2020 is on track to produce even more. To fully comprehend the impact that general elections can have on voters, Peppercomm analyzed two data sets: The 2016 general election that saw Donald Trump lose to Hillary Clinton in the popular vote but win the election in the Electoral College; and the 2020 presidential campaign from its beginning through late October.

Both presidential campaigns show clear, intense emotional effects on the candidates’ supporters. The effects are so dramatic that the 2020 and 2016 elections can rightfully be considered national crises due to the nature of the emotional toll exacted on Americans.

Data suggests 2020 could be worse

Not only have supporters of both Biden and Trump shown an increasing level of fear in recent days, looking at the data over the entire years proves all other negative emotions have risen relentlessly during the latter half of 2020.

October has proven to be a difficult month for supporters of both candidates. The fact that negative emotions have jumped indicates that the situation is only getting worse. Trump supporters are seeing a sharp spike in fear with continued uncertainty over the President’s health and his re-election prospects.

Biden supporters saw a jump in joy with Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis. This joy quickly disappeared but rose again with Biden’s sustained strong polling. However, confusion over Trump’s public statements of good health and fears over possible election violence have superseded any positive sentiment.

What leaders need to consider

What the Mindset.AI election research shows us unequivocally is that nearly all your employees will experience strong emotions during this coming election cycle. It’s a wave that’s coming, and your options don’t include stopping it, or burying it or leaving it at the door of your organization. Instead, as a leader you can help steer your employees and your organization safely to the other side.

Five steps to avoid an employee election meltdown

The following are derived from Peppercomm’s Election, Employees and Productivity Playbook which offers communication strategies for productivity and wellbeing.

Plan for election day and, more importantly, beyond. Even if by Wednesday all indications point to a victor, employees may still feel anxious—regardless of political preference—about the possibility of court challenges or other interventions. Based on your intel gathering, now is the time to be ready. Will employees want to take time to join in protests? Will they pressure leadership to take a stand? What’s possible and how will you anticipate and respond?

Time for leaders to lead. Even for apolitical cultures and individuals, a protracted decision will be frustrating and stressful. Leaders need to remind people about the importance of adhering to ground rules. Be sure leaders connect through town halls and team meetings just as they have with the pandemic. No fancy production: just a few talking points, decent lighting and a camera at eye level.

Watch for middle-management meltdown. Even the most unshakable manager could be nearing the end of their rope by now. They may be tired of distracted employees and of reinforcing and modeling the behaviors and be feeling their own sense of frustration and anxiety. For these managers, extra support and guidance are essential if they are to remain resilient and motivate their teams.

If you want employees to work, give them ways to deal. Given the importance Americans are placing on this election employers are bound to see emotions running high and, whether we like it or not, employees may feel frozen, hopeful, anxious or depressed. In addition to acknowledging these feelings and reminding employees about the importance of maintaining mutual respect, encourage employees to use the resources available to them.

Practical steps toward productivity. As you make space for employees to deal with their reactions, it’s reasonable to remind employees that everyone has a job to do for the health and wellbeing of the business and its employees. Ask employees to commit to do at least one important thing the first day postelection. If they are too distracted to take on more prioritized work, then encourage them to tackle the other things that require less focus. And so on …

As employers, we can be forgiven for wanting to avoid yet another disruption to 2020. But one thing the tumult has shown is that companies ignore employees’ emotions at their own risk. The source of success for most remains the people who move the business forward, so even when financial pressure drives the average leader to want to focus more on spreadsheets than on soft skills, we’re learning that wellbeing is a critical success factor.

By acknowledging this and taking steps to shore up employees through the election process, companies stand a better chance of having employees that are healthier, more focused, more dedicated and, ultimately, stronger contributors to the organization’s success.


Ann Barlow is Head of Employee Engagement and a Senior Partner at Peppercomm.