Occupational medicine experts from the UK, the US, and Australia say it is time for employers to recognise the impact of political changes, domestic and international conflicts, on wellbeing in the workplace. In a letter to the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, representatives of the medical and security assistance company International SOS say that anxiety over political events, exacerbated by the ‘infodemic,’ poses a ‘significant threat to employee mental health.’

‘Globally in 2024, more voters than ever in history will head to the polls, as at least 65 countries are set to hold national elections. The outcomes will impact an increasingly precarious geopolitical and economic environment, with downstream effects expected to negatively affect the mental health and well-being of people worldwide,’ they say.

Research has shown constant exposure to political events, irrespective of political slant, can evoke potent negative emotional reactions, leading to worsened chronic psychological and physical well-being. In the workplace, this can translate into reduced concentration, increased absenteeism and presenteeism, reduced collaboration and resilience levels, and increased workplace conflict.

The 2016 Brexit referendum led to an increase in antidepressant prescriptions in England, while the 2020 US presidential election coincided with increased reports of anxiety and depression. The flux of polarising political content on social media and traditional news sources can cause a ‘heightened sense of anxiety, uncertainty, and powerlessness’ in workers, as well as psychological symptoms similar to vicarious trauma.

They suggest employers can take several steps to assist workers gain a sense of control and alleviate political anxiety, including:

  • Offering end-to-end support to address specific challenges identified in risk assessments, such as employee assistance programs, counselling and emotional support, and incident reporting hotlines
  • Educating and training workers to help them understand the impact of political anxiety and how they can cope with it, as well as the importance of respectful political discussion
  • Providing a sense of control by empowering workers to take actions on issues they care about, such as volunteering, participating in advocacy campaigns and voting
  • Providing opportunities for workers to contribute to company decisions by seeking input on relevant matters and fostering an open communication culture
  • Providing access to reliable and validated information on political and security-related events, to negate the impact of misinformation
  • Encouraging workers to set boundaries between work and personal time so they can recharge during down time
  • Establishing clear communication channels to keep workers informed about organisational changes arising from political events or crises

Source: It's Time for Employers to Recognize and Address Political Anxiety in the Workplace. Maria Mojica, et al, Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, published online June 2024

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