Originally published in Chief Executive Magazine
As the boundaries between work and home continue to blur, how companies respond to social and political issues is more important than ever. Employees are taking note of their employer’s stance on key issues and subsequent actions, and creating an environment of trust, support and psychological safety can help leaders promote healthy engagement among employees.
Employees are looking to work at organizations with a culture and values that closely align with their own. Part of aligning those values comes from providing employees with a space to have tough conversations about social and political issues. Leaders should frame conversations to discuss controversial topics and facilitate those conversations in an environment focused on listening and working together toward change. One of the biggest mistakes an executive can make is not allowing the dialogue to happen in the first place.
The more employees understand each other’s point of view, the less polarizing political and social issues will be. Fostering a culture of respect and openness will help mitigate workplace dissent.
The lines between work and home life have blurred so much so that research from the Royal Society from Public Health (RSPH) found that 56 percent of those surveyed found it difficult to disconnect from work. This phenomena can have a lasting impact on the mental health of an organization’s employees, especially when employees feel that their values do not align with those of their company.
According to research from LinkedIn, 71 percent of people would be willing to take a pay cut to work for an organization that has shared values and a mission they believe in. Because of the importance employees place on their company’s culture and values, it is important for leaders to take the time to develop them and use those values to define their position on pertinent issues. Companies can no longer ignore the sociopolitical landscape in the current environment, so being clear about their stance on current events and providing employees a safe space to talk will help employees feel more connected to the organization. The same LinkedIn survey showed that “47 percent of professionals who are proud of the company they work for say it is because their company has a positive culture where they can be themselves.”
A SAFE SPACE FOR DIALOGUE
Recently, many companies have made commitments to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Diversity of thought is a powerful tool in business and team building. The world is not always a fair place, but workplace environments should demand mutual respect and tolerance of others, as well as foster an environment of belonging.
Forums for listening and exchanging experiences can foster greater understanding and trust among teams. One way to start is to conduct listening sessions facilitated by a third party.
Consider these tips to help facilitate an open discussion:
- Make sure all participants are there to listen, not to judge.
- Develop a clear agenda and framework for difficult conversations.
- Leverage skilled facilitators to guide the conversation.
- Remind participants that everyone will have a different perspective.
THE POWER OF EMPLOYEE RESOURCE GROUPS (ERGS)
Following the events of 2020, especially the death of George Floyd, many organizations were compelled to release a statement and take action. According to Harvard Business Review, race-based stress can be a unique, pervasive burden on many people. Offering a space for employees to have discourse is key to an organization’s success.
Consider instituting an Employee Resource Group (ERG). These groups provide a place for employees of shared interest or identity, such as race, gender or orientation to speak freely about their experiences inside and outside of the workplace. According to Forbes, ERGs can effectively partner with leadership teams to improve inclusion.
Additionally, they create a sense of belonging, provide leadership development and act as a brand ambassador for the organization. For these reasons, leadership should work to ensure that ERGs are empowered, funded and free of any barriers to their success.
LISTEN TO EMPLOYEES
When a disruptive event occurs, executives should lean in, empathize with employees’ experiences then execute a plan to move forward together.
Fostering an environment that considers the whole individual — at the office and at home — and demonstrating tolerance for diversity of thought will promote a culture that works in harmony.