This summer, soon after the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, I was asked to comment for an article about how employers should respond to the ruling. The editors asked important questions like:
- What should workplace leaders communicate to their employees about the Roe v. Wade decision and their organization’s response?
- How can leaders support employees who are worried about how the decision will affect them or their loved ones?
- How can leaders maintain a positive workplace culture and avoid disruption in the wake of a controversial decision on a highly contentious issue?
Business leaders must respond
We live in a time of extreme divides on any number of political and cultural issues, many of which have significant consequences in very personal areas of our lives. Business leaders and workplace team leaders need to recognize that for many employees these are highly stressful times.
Even when employees aren’t personally affected by issues like the curtailment of women’s reproductive rights, they are apt to feel passionately about such issues, and that is bound to impact the workplace.
In my opinion, business leaders must acknowledge this reality and take steps to ensure that their workplace culture stays healthy and their employees fully engaged and motivated. As leaders, we need to adopt a leadership mindset and respond proactively.
Start with empathy
First and foremost, always lead with empathy, especially in times like these. Let employees know your door is open if they need to talk. Listen without judgement. Ask questions rather than making assumptions. Respond with caring and kindness.
In thinking about my leadership advice for business leaders, I focused on steps we can take to create and sustain a positive workplace culture during contentious political times and specifically in the face of continuing efforts to obstruct women’s reproductive rights.
- Manage your own emotions. Leaders must be alert to ways in which our own emotional reactions or biases cloud our vision. Make sure your decisions reflect your core values and your organization’s mission.
- Recognize and acknowledge that the movement to limit abortion access creates enormous stress for some employees. The same is true for other cultural and political efforts to limit rights for certain groups, like transgender individuals.
- Provide resources to support employee wellbeing. Remind employees about existing mental health and wellness programs or benefits. Consider making an EAP consultant or counselor available.
- Use individual coaching conversations to invite employees to talk about stresses in their lives. Workplace coaching includes asking open-ended questions like: What’s on your mind these days? How’s your family doing? Use those same conversations to let employees know how much you value their strengths and their contributions.
- Be attuned to the impact that restrictions on women’s reproductive rights may be having on employee motivation due to the loss of autonomy in their personal lives. This loss of control can negatively impact employee engagement, productivity and creativity. Leaders can minimize this by focusing on positives like employee strengths, accomplishments and loyalty. Use team meetings to reaffirm the organization’s vision and values and employees’ role in achieving that vision.
- Manage workplace conflict. Use workplace coaching skills like listening without interrupting, asking questions for clarification and limiting your statements to facts only. When appropriate, re-focus discussions on common ground, like shared purpose and values.
- Be clear that your organization values diversity of thought. If necessary, provide training in conflict resolution. This is also an opportunity to promote diversity, equity, inclusion and justice (DEIJ) initiatives.
- Don’t try to limit or cut off employee conversations about contentious issues. Instead, focus on maintaining healthy and transparent communications. Depending on your workplace culture, this might mean facilitating an open discussion, though this must be done skillfully.
- Be prepared to redirect conversations when necessary. The artful redirect might include a statement like, “I hear your passion about this, and I admire that. After this meeting, let’s schedule some one-on-one time to talk.”
- During all interventions – whether it’s an employee assistance program learning session, leader-facilitated discussion or coaching conversation – focus on creating an environment where team members feel safe expressing themselves.
In times of great controversy and stress, some workplace disruption is inevitable. As business leaders we must adopt a leadership mindset. This means leading with courage and using our emotional intelligence to support our employees as they navigate rough waters.
You can read what I and others said on this heated topic in the July 8 article “Focus on the Employee Experience in Roe v. Wade Aftermath,” which appeared in #evolve Magazine, a publication of WorldatWork.
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