It is hard to turn on the television today or browse current events online without seeing references to stories about law enforcement violence and subsequent retaliation. We can easily see how these stories, as well as others, have polarized people, not only racially, but politically, generationally and culturally as well. Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that we are a few months from electing a new President of the United States and the candidates are not shying away from these issues.
As managers in increasingly diverse workplaces, how do we understand the challenges our people are facing at home while keeping the peace at work? How do we continue to talk about the value of diversity while embodying the principle of equality? How do we meaningfully connect with our employees and understand what is important to them without sounding racist, patronizing or at the very least, ignorant?
Here are 10 tips to help managers help their employees during these challenging times.
- Start with yourself.
Understanding your own challenges and biases with regard to diversity is the first step in preparing yourself to recognize and value others that do not look like you or have the same background as you. Be honest with yourself and acknowledge that you have had people in your life or situations that have helped shaped and formed your attitudes. Whether you think they are justified or not, it is important to recognize that these attitudes exist and can hinder you relating to others.
- Managers should continue or even step up their diversity and recognition plans.
Now is not the time to scale back or stop your current diversity and employee recognition programs. More than ever your employees need to feel valued by you, their coworkers and your organization. Consider finding ways, beyond the norm, to bring attention to the work of others and the value they bring to your organization.
- Be a backseat driver: Let employees take the wheel and drive your diversity or recognition program.
One of the biggest mistakes companies often make is having their diversity plan or employee recognition programs come from the top then force-fed to their employees. No one is more qualified than your employees on how to make their co-workers feel valued. Of course, management input is important and even necessary at various junctures in the planning process, but take a backseat and let your employees come up with the creative and meaningful ways to illustrate that diversity is important to your company.
- Let employees come to you with their personal issues.
Just because your employee has a teenage son or wife who works for the police force doesn’t give you a license to assume anything about their personal lives or their opinions about issues. Be a sounding board if the employee comes to you, but don’t assume anything about their liaisons or position on current events.
- Be there and listen.
Managers should let it be known they are available to discuss anything that the employee may think may be affecting their work performance. When an employee reaches out to you to discuss personal issues, be there and listen. Have company resources ready to give the employee who may need some work/life assistance. Often times a compassionate ear that understands what they are going through is all that an employee needs to get them back on track.
- Review and communicate (again) the resources that are available to employees.
Many companies offer or have access to in-person or virtual online psychological hotlines, outreach group assistance, legal advice, etc. Review the resources that are available to your employees through work or through the community and share these resources several times during the year.
- Learn what to say (and what not to say).
Your company’s Human Resources department may offer training on how to speak to employees about hot-button issues. Additionally, there are many books and online resources that can help guide managers through the current politically correct vernacular and avoid the microaggressions that can leave your employees feeling dispirited and devalued.
- Apologize quickly and meaningfully if you make a mistake.
If you work in management long enough, you are bound to put your foot in your mouth at one time or another. If you realize that you’ve said something improper or inconsiderate, don’t sweep it under the rug. Apologize as soon as you realize your mistake and let your employee know that you meant no harm. A quick and meaningful apology goes a long way in mending wrongs and can be the gateway to better understanding and a better relationship.
- Keep political discussions at bay.
Whether it is an election year or not, politics is an area that people are highly passionate about. All political discussion is best left outside of the workplace. If an employee begins to talk politics at work, swiftly and politely let them know you do not condone political discussions at work and change the subject.
- Don’t forget about white males.
Diversity should be part of your company’s overall culture of inclusion. I’ve seen companies focus solely on everyone but white males. This take on diversity can leave, not only white males disenfranchised with the concept of diversity, others will see it as an injustice as well. Keep in mind that diversity should include EVERYONE. Everyone should have a voice and everyone should be part of the process – an important part of the culture.