CapitolStrong provides Hill staff resources for tough times
Anyone who has worked on Capitol Hill for a member of Congress has faced the ire of an angry caller. Sometimes merely rude, sometimes calling repeatedly and using offensive language—everyone has their fair share of stories. Sadly, what was once an infrequent experience is increasingly common according to recent reports, putting interns and entry-level staff in the crosshairs of relentless verbal abuse. Hill staff, particularly the young and inexperienced, need up-to-date tools and clear office protocols to navigate these choppy waters successfully.
To call today’s partisan political climate exceptional isn’t merely a rhetorical flourish. A March report from the Pew Research Center found that “Democrats and Republicans are farther apart ideologically today than at any time in the past 50 years.” This rift has been compounded by misinformation, and hyperbolic, often mean-spirited discourse. The impact of this pervasive cultural toxicity was seen most obviously during the appalling scenes of the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol, but it continues to be a problem for lawmakers and their staff on both sides of the aisle.
A January survey of both Republican and Democratic member offices from CQ Roll Call found 75 percent of respondents had experienced an increase in death threats. In a more recent article from USA Today, staff and members of Congress relayed troubling anecdotes of recent calls with antagonistic individuals:
One recounted the time a caller used her ethnicity (she told him she was Indian) to insult her. Another staffer spoke about how a caller aggressively mocked him for stumbling over an answer. Still another detailed how a caller routinely “attacks in the form of a question. It’ll be like, ‘Do you guys know how stupid you are?’”
Unfortunately, this problem is unlikely to go away anytime soon.
June is shaping up to be a hotbed of political turmoil. This month, the January 6 Select Committee will be hosting a series of public hearings and decisions are expected in several contentious Supreme Court cases involving abortion and gun rights. On top of this, Americans continue to grapple with the ongoing health and economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, inflation, high gas prices and tragic conflicts at home and abroad.
Congressional staff, particularly those that answer the phone and often bear the brunt of violent and threatening language, need the appropriate strategies and tools—especially those that address mental health—to help them effectively navigate an intense period of constituent interactions.
Fortunately, for staffers and interns currently working on the Hill, the House and Senate Offices of Employee Assistance offer a hotline staffed 24-7, as well as counseling, online/recorded training and wellness support.
CapitolStrong, a “coalition of civil society organizations working to strengthen and invest in the institution of Congress and the people who serve there,” has also curated an extensive list of resources that covers everything from office policies to stress and trauma support.
Congressional Management Foundation, a key partner within the CapitolStrong coalition, also has excellent materials and trainings, including resources for supervisory staff on supporting employees in a crisis:
- “Congress: Change Your Office Phone Answering Policies AGAIN”
- “Managing Staff While Under Attack”
- “Communicating with Distressed Constituents” (written by the California Psychological Association)
If your office or you, as a staffer, have questions about specific resources or training needs, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for assistance.