Fostering Inclusion in 2021

/ February 5, 2021 February 5, 2021

Between the pandemic and systemic racism issues, the last few years have been emotionally taxing on people, and leaders can no longer stay silent. In turbulent times, employees look to leaders not for answers but for guidance. They need a place to be able to voice their concerns and not feel judged.   

In the past, many organizations would say “leave your troubles at the door” but that’s not always possible. The lines between work and home have blurred, especially as technology continues to advance and even more so now that companies are working from home. Leaders have a responsibility to think about the emotional well-being of their employees, from both a human and a business standpoint. How can you expect employees to be fully focused when emotional events are occurring?  The personal impact may not always be evident, however, studies during the past year have shown that the emotional events (which have been traumatic for many) have caused employees to have less interest in socializing, more trouble sleeping, and turn to more alcohol or substance abuse. 

While employees may have different views and beliefs, it’s important to set a workplace culture that celebrates differences, values respect and cares for the well-being of employees. 

Outlined below are 5 tips that leaders can implement to create an inclusive culture in the workplace in turbulent times:  

  1. Acknowledge – The first step for leaders is to acknowledge current events. State what people are seeing and hearing, then take a stance that aligns with your organization’s values. “It’s understandable that you may feel distracted given all that’s happening… we believe in _, not _.” 
  2. Create a space – The next step is to create a safe space where employees can voice their feelings without being judged by their employer. Perhaps this is through training seminars, handouts or small discussions. Talking about politics in the workplace might be taboo, but you can talk about how they make you feel if it’s relevant to the situation. “This makes me anxious too…I’ve never seen anything like this in my life”. Leaders should be able to self-disclose their emotions, it humanizes the process. 
  3. Connect people with resources – Make sure your employees can access mental health and well-being resources. This can include an EAP, chaplain services or online programs. It’s important for employees to have someone to help them work through their emotions.  
  4. Recognize perspective – Leaders MUST recognize that everyone is going to experience these events from their own personal lens, thanks to varying upbringings and backgrounds. As a leader, you can’t say blanket statements like “everything will be fine” because for some employees, it may not. We need to honor and value the way people experience this and allow them the freedom to experience things openly and freely.  
  5. Share any additional information that might be helpful – Check relevant news outlets and share updates, especially for organizations located in cities where events are happening. Encourage employees to work from home and avoid any potentially dangerous areas if possible. Both physical and psychological safety needs to be front and center for leaders today. 

Addressing difficult situations is no longer optional- this is leadership in our “next” normal. Being a leader means recognizing there’s a human component that must be addressed, doing what we can for employee safety, and creating a work environment that allows people to thrive. 

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