Working through the uncertainty

The U.S. is suffering from an election-induced hangover today as results continue to roll in. But the show must go on, even as we collectively panic.

If 2020 has been the most tumultuous year in modern history, it’s all coming to a head right now.

Election Day is behind us, but the results are still rolling in. President Trump is already declaring premature victory. Misinformation is flowing on social media. We’ve all been faked out by red and blue mirages.

But we have jobs to do, clients to impress and KPIs to hit. It’s enough to make your head explode (if it hasn’t already).

As someone with anxiety, this is not my first rodeo sitting down for a long work day with panicked distractions flooding my brain. And I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in that feeling, given that one in three Americans now show signs of clinical anxiety or depression, according to Census Bureau data.

For some, work can be a good distraction. But in marketing, media and advertising, scrolling through TikTok, Instagram and Twitter all day are actually part of our jobs. We have to keep up with the headlines and be on the edge of culture, or we’re not going to deliver.

Then there’s the added isolation of working from home, whether that’s with family whose votes you don’t agree with, or alone in a small apartment fighting the urge to turn on cable news.

Some agencies and big corporations have taken a stance for civic duty this year by giving their employees election day off to vote. That’s a nice 24-hour respite from our daily duties, and takes a huge load off of people who felt they couldn’t make it to the polls because of job commitments. But voting is done and we’re back at our desks (or dining room tables) and regardless of how this thing goes, we’re still in a delicate state.

So let’s proceed with empathy. If you haven’t already, now is a good time to start factoring mental health into your decisions as a business leader.

Advertising is a notoriously high-stress business, with people feeling pressured to work long hours and be available 24/7 on a client whim. Working from home has increased the feeling of burnout by making people feel they must be online at all times. Add on a full-blown mental health crisis thanks to COVID-19, and we’ve got a lot of stressed-out people in our industry.

Senior leadership should always be looking out for junior employees, but especially these next few turbulent days. Give your team an extra break today if they need it, or let them turn off the camera in a meeting if they just don’t have the energy. Check in on them and ask how they are. Get together for something light and social -- and make it optional.

You can’t be a good leader unless you take care of yourself. That’s a tall order for busy executives pitching, shooting and strategizing from home while homeschooling or caring for an elderly parent. But if you give yourself space to breathe, you’ll have more energy to comfort and support your employees. So go for a run, meditate, or sleep in for an hour and skip the morning routine all together. Do whatever it is you need to do to be present and supportive for your staff today.

Clients, practice giving your agencies a break today, too. They’ve been working nonstop trying to support or even save your business this year. You’ve seen into their kitchens and met their dogs. They’re people, and they need a break today like the rest of us.

Most brands are staying quiet as we take a long, deep breath and wait for answers, but there are clever ways to create branding moments while supporting consumers. Meditation app Calm ran ads with soothing music and pacifying landscapes on cable news last night during the most tense moments of coverage, and has partnered with NowThis on a relaxing election day live stream

Media budgets are likely to start opening up again as soon as we have more certainty, but people probably won’t be any less stressed out, especially if the election doesn’t go the way they had hoped. Brands should take a cue from where consumers are at for similarly smart and contextually relevant activations.

Prioritizing mental health is a virtuous cycle that benefits everyone. Employees that feel supported can do their jobs better, executives can support employees better when they take care of themselves, and clients get better work when they don’t stress agencies out with unrealistic expectations.

Regardless of how this election goes, we can use the undeniable stress of it all as an opportunity to be more open and understanding when it comes to mental health in the workplace. Because we’re still in this coronavirus pandemic, and the anxiety will persist after this election is far behind us.

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