No. 3: Create safe spaces for productive conversations
Eighty-four percent of U.S. employees report discussing politics in the workplace, but it’s difficult for an employee to know when, where and how to share thoughts and feelings about political events that they may not consider to be welcome at work.
Create safe spaces for productive conversations in which employees feel free to express themselves. Establish standards and norms of communication, encourage employees to focus on common goals, and set examples of respect and civility.
Productive conversations should have clearly defined session objectives, such as:
- Promoting greater understanding and connections across differences
- Sharing and learning from others’ experiences
- Developing an action plan to move forward
Set explicit guidelines to facilitate the session, including:
- No recordings, no screenshots — this is a safe space.
- Engage in dialogue, not debate.
- Listen and contribute respectfully; don’t interrupt.
Remember to balance formal conversations led by leadership with informal, small-group or one-on-one conversations between individual employees. That balance can be especially difficult in a remote or hybrid workforce environment.
Small-group conversations can be logistically difficult to create, but leadership-driven dialogue can escalate the emotional reactions of employees and increase communication fatigue. Encourage employees to reach out to peers and friends for unstructured conversations and to find additional support during emotionally turbulent times.
Read more: 9 Tips for Managing Remote Employees
No. 4: Communicate your action plan to employees
Employees, especially through resource groups and other affinity networks, have become increasingly vocal in urging organizations to communicate on societal issues. But a recent Gartner survey shows that employees are more likely to report higher satisfaction with their organizations’ responses to social and political issues when the response is action-oriented.
In the U.S., 69% of employees were very satisfied when their organizations took action in response to the mid-2020 protests against racial injustice, compared to 50% who were very satisfied when their organization just issued a public statement.
It’s difficult for any organization or individual to know the exact actions to take amid the U.S. election turmoil, but communicate to employees a message that:
Acknowledges employees’ distraction and feelings
Share resources with employees and managers on how to handle stress and conflict. For example:
“The events of this week have been extremely emotional and tense for us all. It’s important to look out for our physical and emotional well-being. Let’s be kind and patient with one another. Please make use of our organization’s resources for emotional health and well-being. Also, please check on your colleagues; plan a virtual catch-up or coffee to take time to process recent events together.”
Shares a plan for productive conversations
“Please join your colleagues for a Zoom conversation [time, date] to discuss the ongoing political unrest. We want to create a safe space for employees to be heard and understood by engaging in discussion. The conversation is open to all, and we encourage open dialogue with respect and understanding. Due to the nature of the discussion, this conversation will not be recorded.”
Reiterates the organization’s core values
“The next few weeks will be difficult. As individuals, we’ll continue to strive for the things we believe in. As a company, we’ll continue to serve our customers and strive for excellence.”
Identifies future steps the organization will take
“The leadership team will be meeting over the coming weeks to discuss how best to support those initiatives across the organization that we feel are essential to improving and maintaining employee well-being and encouraging corporate citizenship during these emotionally turbulent and politically charged times.”
No. 5: Don’t forget to support fatigued HR teams
Extreme fatigue already threatens leaders, managers and employees following a long year of disruption, distraction and unrest. The employment deal has evolved since COVID-19 struck, and progressive organizations are now working with employees on many fronts to increase both employee engagement and productivity. HR leaders and their teams have been integral to radical enterprise initiatives — from remote work and hybrid workforce models to COVID-19 vaccine strategy — but HR staff aren’t immune to professional or personal disruptions.
HR leaders can provide support by hosting regular meetings with HR staff to give them time to discuss how they are personally handling their situation, clarify work priorities for the HR team and recalibrate expectations so HR staff handle only the most essential issues now. They should also consider developing a buddy system and leveraging existing mentoring relationships to help HR staff navigate disruptive situations and spot mental health stress in colleagues.