How to Tackle Tough Social Issues in the Workplace

Author Leo Gestetner
Posted October 20, 2020

You’d have to be living under a rock to not be aware of the myriad of social issues facing the nation. And while we might think that the workplace isn’t an appropriate place to discuss them, the opposite is true. Here’s the thing: Employees are both affected by these issues and they’re going to talk about them. A company that ignores them, then, is likely ignoring their employees’ needs.

These issues—from systemic racism to a rancorous political environment and everything in between—can be very uncomfortable to discuss. No one wants to be “the bad guy,” in these discussions. No one wants to be made to feel inferior to or excluded from their peers, either. And no one wants an altercation to arise between employees because of their views on current events.

It’s therefore important for businesses to react to social issues that their employees are passionate about. It can be tricky to do this in a constructive way, but there are some approaches that work. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Acknowledge that Issues Exist

One of the worst things a firm can do is to deny the existence of social issues. As mentioned above, it might be tempting to think that there’s no room in a professional workplace for them, but this can only amplify these issues and create an unpleasant workplace. Race is a great example. According to the Society for Human Resource Management’s report, The Journey to Equity and Inclusion, 45 percent of black workers say their workplace discourages discussion of racial and social justice issues. Compare that to 30 percent of white employees, and you can see how a significant portion of the workforce might feel slighted when these issues go unaddressed. This doesn’t even touch on the number of employees experiencing discrimination directly in the workplace. Not acknowledging these issues, whether they take place inside or outside an organization, only results in amplifying feelings of exclusion.

Create a Safe Space for Conversation

In tense situations or discussions about race or other social justice issues, employees often don’t say anything out of fear of saying the wrong thing. That’s why it’s essential for organizations to foster an environment where workers can feel they can express themselves safely, without fear of reprise or retribution.

Of course, rules of respect need to always apply. But ultimately, this needs to be built into the company culture, and it needs to be done purposefully, meaning policies need to be developed that allow employees to share their thoughts and express themselves. Moreover, supervisors and managers should be given training to help them manage and guide these conversations, as well as training on how to diffuse difficult or tense situations.

Provide Resources for Support, Learning, and Growth

Nothing happens in a vacuum, and organizations need to recognize their role in fostering healthy and safe workplaces. That means providing resources to help employees deal with the issues happening outside the company’s doors, but it also means providing resources for employees who feel they are the object of workplace discrimination, and training for everyone. When outside social issues spill into the workplace, it’s incumbent on the organization to not only address the issues, but to provide a path to resolution.

Affinity groups and mentoring are also key tools for discussing social issues in a safe environment, and can provide the tools for employees to feel both included and accepted.

If your organization is working to address social issues in the workplace, community-building tools like Zenvoy can be a real help. Contact us to see how Zenvoy is helping organizations just like yours create safe spaces for difficult discussions.

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