NEWS

3 Ways To Support Employees During Tragedy

May 16, 2022

It’s hard not to be affected by everything that’s going on; a huge percentage of people are ... [+] experiencing burnout and stress.

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Each day that passes brings new tragedies that the world must mourn. While the United States has yet to heal from the scars of chattel slavery, pillaging, and war, an onslaught of horrific events has left the nation reeling. Covid-19 is still impacting the world currently, parents are now grappling with a baby formula shortage, anxiety and depression is on the rise globally, and on Saturday, the terrifying news of a white terrorist shooting in a Black community in Buffalo, New York made headlines. Outside of the U.S., countries like Ethiopia, Somalia, Haiti, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Cameroon are experiencing instability, conflict, and war that isn’t getting as much news coverage as it should. It’s hard not to be affected by everything that’s going on; a huge percentage of people are experiencing burnout and stress. How do we provide employees with the supports that they need to navigate everything going on outside of the workplace? This article highlights three specific strategies to support employees amidst tragedy.

1. Open opportunities for dialogue. There used to be a publicly held belief that discussions about religion, politics, and race should be avoided in the workplace. Race specifically is intertwined in any and every experience we have; yet it’s the pink elephant in the room that everyone sees but no one wants to talk about. Gone are the days when people should shy away from conversations about “the unmentionables,” and go on with business as usual. When tragedy strikes, we have to be intentional about opening up discussions about what is happening, and how it is impacting each and every one of us. Leaders should not be silent in the face of tragedy. How does consistent imagery of Black death, for example, impact your Black employees? Understand that your employees may be feeling a plethora of emotions, which can range from wanting to speak about what’s happening to a desire to disengage and disconnect. Allow each employee the space to deal with what is going on at a larger scale within society and be intentional about creating opportunities for discussion for employees that are seeking community care.

Leaders should model the importance of time-off by intentionally taking time away from work

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2. Mitigate stress and burnout. As a general rule of thumb, and especially in the midst of tragedy, employees should be given flexibility around time-off requests to mitigate stress and burnout. A 2022 study of 2,019 U.S. adults found that 65% of those surveyed rated unlimited paid time off as a benefit that was important to them, while 73% desired mental health coverage and 81% of respondents wanted a flexible schedule. Think about what flexibility can be provided when it comes to job tasks and responsibilities. Extend deadlines for projects and tasks often and generously, while frequently checking in with employees. Unused vacation time cost companies over $200 billion a year. Leaders should model the importance of time-off by intentionally taking time away from work (without trying to sneak and do work or check work emails). Cross-training can also be an effective strategy to ensure that multiple employees know how to perform different job roles, in the event that an employee needs to take time away.

3. Provide resources and accommodations. It’s important for leaders to keep themselves abreast about what’s happening in the world to understand what resources and accommodations employees need. A consistent thought that should be running through your head is “how is this affecting our workplace?” If you don’t know, it’s important to seek feedback from employees. How are the rising gas prices affecting employees? How will employees be affected by inflation? How is Russia’s war with Ukraine impacting your workforce? Organizations and institutions often have the resources to alleviate the issues that employees are experiencing—even if the relief is short-lived. Leadership should consistently be discussing a) what issues are impacting society at large and b) how these issues are ultimately impacting employees. Is it possible to provide more remote work flexibility amidst the rising gas prices? Could you provide meals for employees while the country grapples with increased grocery prices? Can financial planners, coaches, and credit repair experts be provided as an additional resource for employees? There are a number of ways to provide supports for employees to accommodate their different needs, especially in the midst of ongoing hardship and tragedy.

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