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  • Nicole Stibbe

Social conflict does impact your company—even if you don’t think so

Times of social conflict demand response and action. Even if the conflict doesn’t directly impact your company, you’ll likely be under the critical eye of the public, your clients, and your employees. In the modern world, it’s impossible to separate personal life from professional life altogether. People can’t help but bring their emotions, opinions, and beliefs into the place of work. It’s part of what happens when we preach to bring our authentic selves to work. When there is political/social unrest employees may need time to grieve, extensions on work projects, or something else entirely. There isn’t some invisible barrier that makes it so outside worries never touch work. This being said, work should be a safe space for people to feel like they can exist without harassment, issues, or discrimination. No matter what is happening in the world.

So, when major conflicts happen, it’s essential to ensure your company has the right support systems and policies to support impacted employees.

Should I release a statement?

Amid conflict, companies often struggle to determine whether or not they should take a stance or comment on an issue. However, a recent study indicates employees and customers expect their employers to take a position. They want to be part of a company that stands in line with justice and has the betterment of the world. Ultimately, it’s up to your leadership team to make this decision, but knowing what your employees expect and how the stance lines up with the company’s overall guiding principles is essential to evaluate.

It’s also important to make sure you are consistent in messaging decisions. Your message may vary, but if you decide to put out a statement for one issue and not another, the company may be seen as ill-informed and garner a poor reputation.

Don’t rely on a specific ethnic group to educate

Remember when Black Lives Matter was the topic of conversation at every turn? The broader public was eager to learn from Black communities and make tangible change. While this was an important and valuable time, it also put immense pressure on Black people to be educators. They were forced to provide resources, share lived experiences, and comfort white people while also mourning deaths, dealing with generational trauma, and continuing to work.

Companies need to make sure they provide resources for people to get educated on their own or connect them with professional educators to ensure specific marginalized groups aren’t pushed into a role they didn’t sign up for.

Established ERGs with response guidelines

Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are primary pillars of employee well-being and company inclusivity, and they can even be tapped to help inform guiding principles. And when international or local conflicts arise, these groups can also guide broader company responses and actions. We can often look to them to provide employees with a safe space to have difficult discussions, inform leadership on what the next or “right” action should be, and even identify gaps in learning or education.

Remember: ERGs are not a one-stop-shop for conflict response and management but can be valuable resources.

Cultural sensitivity of leaders

You shouldn’t wait until a disaster strikes to ensure your leaders have the proper education and training. There should be ongoing education to ensure people-leaders have the correct vocabulary to speak about anything related to EDI and maintain sensitivity when their employees express a need for support.

Reinforce harassment and discrimination policies

Hate crimes and harassment increase in times of conflict. Make sure you reinforce anti-hate and anti-discrimination policies. Employees need to know the workplace is a safe place for people to be, no matter their associations.

Time Off

Conflict often leads to grief, anxiety, depression, and a whole other host of emotions. It’s essential to recognize that employees may require time off. In order to function at their best, they may need to take time to collect themselves and care for their mental and physical well-being in addition to that of the people around them.

Review your company policies to ensure they cover situations like this.

Employee and Family Assistance Program

Companies don’t often have the necessary resources to support their employees on their own—that’s why Employee and Family Assistance programs exist (EFAP). Your EFAP should be comprehensive and include culturally sensitive mental health support. Some programs even facilitate workshops and provide articles and resources for employees on how to deal with trauma, as well as information on how to talk to their children about current events. They can help ensure your employees have the right systems and structures to continue to work in the face of conflict.

Don’t have an EFAP in place? Talk to a benefits consultant or reach out to EFAP companies directly.

In sum…

Preparation is key. The situation will change from time to time, but conflict is bound to happen at a local, national, and international level. Ensuring your company is prepared by establishing response guidelines and engaging the right people and resources will help ensure you are primed to support your employees in their time of need and provide spaces of belonging.

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