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Responding to Societal Events

Last week I suggested that you take time over the weekend to think about how your would respond to societal events in the workplace. This has become a topic with a wide range of opinions - I've seen advice that a manager should have open discussions about it so everyone can share their feelings to a manager should have a canned answer that essentially acknowledges the feeling, but shuts down the discussion.

While I understand all the options and believe that a manager has to use the option that is best for his situation, I lean heavily towards the idea that the matter is discussed openly and honestly - either in a group setting or one-on-one.

The canned answer to shut down the discussion is the traditional way of business. We make a general statement that is beyond criticism ("we never condone criminal acts") and then shut down the conversation ("however, that is not an appropriate workplace discussion").The only way I would use this approach is if my team was not able to have difficult conversations well. In other words, is this going to increase divisiveness? If so, then use this response.

Note: I would consider this a red flag - if my team can't have this conversation, then it could be a sign that trust is not where it needs to be.

The problem with this response is that it tends to contradict the message that employees should bring their entire, authentic self to work.

I prefer addressing the issue because it is more consistent with the authentic workplace. The idea of the magic portal where we enter work and the outside world doesn't interfere is folly. We have to acknowledge that what is happening in the real world impacts us all in different ways and we have different opinions about it.

One thing with which I do agree - as a manager, do not feel obligated to have an opinion or share an opinion. Neutrality is good, provided it is authentic. If you decide to take a position, be prepared for 2 potential negative situations:

  • The employee believes you are speaking for the company. In other words, if you believe X, then the company has an official position of X. Which could lead to unengaged employees.

  • The employee feels like this puts them at a disadvantage with you - you will somehow hold this difference against them. This will likely happen if the relationship hasn't been built up strongly enough.

In summary, as you decide how you want to handle these discussion, consider the divisiveness of the issue, the trust level among your staff, and the trust level the team has with you. I'd love to give you a clear cut process for this - but this is one of the many issues managers face that require solid judgement.

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