The impact of trauma is increasingly felt in the workplace. This could be for personal and private events, or it could be arising from the mental burden of the news agenda.
Trauma is a diversity consideration as it can disproportionately affect underrepresented groups.
Distress arising from the news agenda can be hard to escape in a world that is constantly switched on, plugged into an endless stream of information.
It can now be difficult to switch off from major global events which can lead to information overload.
Neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin found the link between information overload and multi-tasking, as the brain attempts to consume content while focus on work. Multi-tasking increases the level of the stress hormone cortisol which can have a serious effect on the brain’s physiological health.
How heavy is this mental burden on employees in the workplace? How does it manifest itself? And what should businesses do about it?
For those employees who are linked to global events as a result of their identity, history, and personal stories, the emotions evoked by these situations can be intense and multifaceted.
Moreover, it’s important to remember that within these groups are a range of opinions, and not everyone aligns with a singular narrative.
Workplace discussions about geopolitical events can be sensitive. There’s potential for debates, misunderstandings, and personal grievances. The strain can be palpable, especially when co-workers may not fully grasp the depth of the issue or unintentionally hold biased perspectives.
It is crucial for leaders to approach these discussions with sensitivity and understanding.
Businesses and organisations must be equipped to address the mental and emotional burdens brought on by these global events.
Providing safe spaces for discussion, ensuring that there’s no tolerance for any form of discrimination or bias, and educating employees about the complexities of global issues are steps in the right direction.
How does this mental burden manifest in the workplace and what are the issues for business?
Discussion of topical events in the workplace is difficult to avoid as is the likelihood of varied and conflicting views.
Workers that voice an opinion on an issue such as abortion or war or police brutality may touch on another worker’s trauma.
This could lead to problems in the workplace, where opinions are insensitively expressed, or indeed because employees are afraid to express their views and feel silenced.
Taking a stance on world issues
Organisations are also under increasing pressure to be vocal on current affairs and social issues.
The Global Trends 2021 report showed 70% of respondents from 25 countries across six continents said that they buy from businesses that reflect their own personal values.
A worldwide study of 30,000 people by Gartner showed 87% of workers thought brands should make their views on social issues clear and 74% thought that this should extend to issues that aren’t directly related to the business.
To what extent should brands communicate their stance on geopolitical issues?
GDP advises businesses to focus on the internal first.
Honesty is key and no leader is expected to be a policy expert. While admitting that more knowledge and education is needed is acceptable, employees will pick up on disingenuous messaging, generic statements or pandering.
Listen to workers and take note of the issues that they see as directly affecting them.
Address the mental burdens that employees may be feeling to provide reassurance and support.
Ensure external statements are aligned with internal messaging and that the intention of your communication is clear. Is the business communicating to offer support to employees and customers who may need assistance, or is it stating a point of view,? If the latter, have you considered all perspectives holistically and is the communication aligned with company values and behaviours? How far would you go if pushed? Would you change supply chains, for example?
What can businesses do?
Ensure policies on workplace respect and inclusion are clear to every employee, as well as the policies for dealing with employees who do not follow these guidelines.
There should be information to help workers understand how the organisation views cases where there may be a strong difference in personal and political opinion, what is permissible and what will not be tolerated.
Explore how employee representative groups can support better communication between employees and managers to catch cancel culture in its early stages. A collaborative approach to combatting toxic work cultures will help employees feel included and their opinions valued.
Don’t wait for global events to explode. Trauma can be caused also be caused by private and personal issues.
Regular check-ins with employee wellbeing is important. Research shows that employees with empathetic managers are more productive and are generally happier at work than those with managers who don’t lead with empathy. Put systems in place to check that employees feel listened to and understood and introduce leadership training to help managers lead with empathy.
There are many strategies that help businesses monitor the mental burden of global events on employees and how to create a supportive workplace.
Global Diversity Practice can help you devise effective strategies for tackling cancel culture and ensuring that every employee feels included and accepted at work.