Originally posted in HR News.
Due to the pandemic, the workplace climate has changed considerably. Discussing politics and social issues at work are part of the new normal. Conversations and efforts surrounding diversity, equity and inclusion are at the forefront in many organizations. Political and social issues — such as police brutality, the pandemic and climate change — directly impact individual employees’ everyday lives. When people are able to express themselves and feel heard at work, it makes a difference. Employees who feel respected and engaged will invest more of themselves because they feel comfortable contributing new ideas.
Discussions around social issues can be polarizing and challenging to navigate. That is why it is crucial for leaders to bridge opposing sides. While this is no easy feat, it is possible with the right approach. A company’s success depends upon leaders who build trust, create opportunities for open dialogue and lead by example.
BUILDING A FOUNDATION OF TRUST
When it comes to cultivating a culture of open communication and respect in the workplace, trust is paramount. Leading a company based on trust has significant benefits. A Harvard Business Review study found that companies with high trust experience 106 percent more energy, 50 percent higher productivity, 76 percent more engagement and 40 percent less burnout from its workforce. That translates to a thriving company.
Oftentimes, companies will broadcast the false trope that they are a family. Yet, individuals are often told to leave their “emotional baggage” at home. Companies do well when employees bring their whole selves to work, using their personal knowledge of the world and relationships to contribute valuable insights and experiences.
When individuals feel they must turn off part of themselves at work, it can lead to trust issues. If employees cannot trust their leaders, the organization will suffer. For leaders to become trustworthy, they must practice empathy and active listening when an employee shares an experience from their personal lives or insights regarding social issues. When staff members have a safe space to discuss topics that affect their lives and impact their work, they will feel valued and empowered. This translates to a more productive, innovative and confident team.
CREATING SAFE SPACE FOR DISCOURSE
Listening sessions are an effective way to take the temperature of teams within an organization. Similar to focus groups, listening sessions invite people to talk openly about their experiences and concerns while leaders listen and observe. Based on feedback from the participants, leaders can gauge what is and what is not working. This will allow leaders to begin to make changes for the better. When employees feel heard and changes are made based on their input, trust within the company will solidify.
Additionally, employee resource groups (ERGs) are also effective in helping employees feel valued when you have a diverse team. These voluntary, employee-led groups bring together people with shared experiences and characteristics, such as ethnicity, gender and/or interests. They foster a community of support and diversity in the workplace and create valuable connections. These meetings can be held in person or virtually, depending on the needs of the company and staff. The important thing is to stay engaged, regardless of the setting or location.
For both listening sessions and ERGs, ground rules are necessary so that everyone in the meeting has a turn to participate and to ensure that the meetings stay on track. A resource guide from Diversity Best Practices recommends creating consistent protocols across the organization. Rules such as ensuring everyone has the chance to speak, asking participants to introduce themselves before speaking, sticking with a time limit and establishing regular cadence for meetings can contribute to the success of these meetings.
Once a leader has created a safe space for team members to share their insights and experiences, it opens the door for real dialogue to happen. An expert panel at Forbes interviewed executives from the Young Entrepreneur Council to discuss their most successful strategies when having difficult conversations. Terry Tateossian, founding partner at Socialfix Media, shared that a direct and truthful approach is best while leading with empathy and compassion. When addressing difficult or bad news, Danielle Allen, managing partner at Building Impact, suggested demonstrating care and connection. If discussions are framed with empathy, honesty and respect, they can bring teams together rather than further polarize them.
LEAD BY EXAMPLE
All of the work applied to creating a company culture built on trust, communication, compassion and respect can be undermined by a leader whose actions do not align with their words. When a manager shows the team that they are willing to put in the work, they will be respected and appreciated, which will translate to higher productivity. Diversity Best Practices suggests creating a reverse mentorship program between ERG leaders and management. This is an excellent way for leaders to learn from employees and be held accountable for their actions and commitments.
Additionally, promoting self-care in the workplace, including offering mental health days and family programs, will create a community of well-rounded employees. Mental fitness app, Calm, even created a self-care guide for HR professionals to disseminate to employees.
Self-care is also essential for leadership. Leaders who are exhausted or stressed out may inadvertently brew negativity amongst their teams. Taking time to fill the tank, making sure needs are met and prioritizing healthy choices, such as rest and recreation, can benefit the bottom line. As the saying goes, one cannot pour from an empty cup.
While leaders face many challenges during this time, it is important to have the right perspective. Creating a foundation of trust, leading with empathy and making time for self-care will be key to successfully leading diverse teams in the post-pandemic workplace. These components are proven to boost productivity, increase engagement and cultivate a thriving and innovative company in the current business climate.