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Addressing National Civil Unrest In The Workplace

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Feb. 2 2021, Published 4:00 a.m. ET

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Ongoing civil unrest coupled with the stress of a global pandemic challenges workplace leaders to strengthen company communication. 

American employees sit through distressing events, such as the siege on the U.S. Capitol Building on Jan. 6, and go right back to work as if nothing happened. Political tension seeps into work life and can often cause animosity between colleagues. 

“It can be difficult for employees to leave their personal concerns at home, especially if they or a loved one are actively involved in civic engagement,” HR Executive Kimberly Prescott said in a LinkedIn article. “In order to protect employees and manage risk in the workplace, employers should take action to implement policies and have plans in place.”

Creating Space For Dialogue

Business mentor and author Sheryl Miller said many employees feel that they are not emotionally or mentally supported by their employers. She noted that some Black professionals hesitate to give their opinions on civil unrest for fear of looking unprofessional or hurting their career prospects. 

She said that there is a “fear-induced paralysis” on the side of the employer as well. There is a fear of being held accountable or a fear of seeming ingenuine.

“It’s like the largest elephant in the room that no one wants to be the first to address,” said Miller.

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People Operations Manager Anne Hildebrand said her company, Swiftly, has a plan in place to address matters of civil unrest with employees. As soon as the news about the siege on the Capitol Building broke, Hildebrand got to work on a statement to company employees. In the statement, she acknowledged the situation and the fact that it may negatively affect morale. 

“It’s a fine line to talk about politics in the workplace,” said Hildebrand. “However, there are some things that are beyond politics, that are about equity and justice and human rights.”

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Being Careful Of Insensitivities

Any workplace is bound to have a diversity of thought. This means that employees have to interact and collaborate with folks who have different political opinions. Though it is generally encouraged to avoid talking about politics in the workplace, matters of civil unrest cannot go ignored. 

Hildebrand argued that it is best for companies to avoid taking a political stance for fear of alienating employees or clients. She did note, however, that some matters can bleed from politics into the territory of human rights, and employers must determine for themselves how they want to address the situation. 

“It’s just a gut-check thing,” said Hildebrand. 

She also observed that it’s easier to focus the conversation on people’s feelings rather than political issues. 

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Taking Care Of Employee Mental Health

employee mental health during times of civil unrest

Witnessing civil unrest is distressing, especially for folks who have personal connections to the cause. Employees may not perform as well as they usually do

Hildebrand said that workplace leaders at Swiftly take care of the mental health of employees by being lenient. Though they are on a hiring freeze and have added workload due to the pandemic, they are understanding of employees who may need a break. 

Additionally, the company designates one day as a company holiday each month that doesn’t already have a holiday in order to alleviate some stress. 

“The world is always changing,” said Hildebrand. “We want to be as proactive prepared for the future as possible, but a lot of what we do is react to that which is volatile, uncertain, chaotic and ambiguous.”

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By: Bareerah Zafar

Bareerah Zafar is a journalist based in Southern California. On top of her freelance reporting, she works as a beauty editor for Parachute Media. Zafar dedicates her career to empowering underrepresented communities through storytelling.

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