The world can be a difficult place. Traumatic events crowd our nonstop news cycle, and many leaders feel pressure to respond in a meaningful way. Often, they aren’t sure where to start. They might fear saying the wrong thing, or feel unsure if an @all Slack message is due for every major news story. While it can also be tempting to sit these tough stories out and do nothing, more than ever employees are expecting workplaces to align with their values and take a stance on social issues. Research shows that taking a neutral stance can be even more detrimental to employee trust than taking a negative one.
While kindness and helping humanity are the core reasons a leader might want to acknowledge traumatic world events, this is also a business issue; it’s important that companies and managers understand that things happening outside of work influence how employees show up to do that work. As leaders, we can’t stop bad things from happening in the world, but we can create a safe and supportive space for the people we work with who might be affected by them. The best way to do it? Before anything happens, have a strategy in place for how you’ll respond to difficult news events. This strategy will consider when and how you’ll communicate, provide a framework for relevant decisions (like whether you'll donate) and ensure affected team members can connect to the support they need. As a starting point, we’ve also provided a response template at the bottom of this story that you can adapt to suit your own needs.
Important things to remember
- No company or individual has a perfect crisis response plan; this is a process of constantly learning and adapting.
- By running through the same set of questions and same process for each potential event, you can help produce more equitable and safe spaces for your employees and maintain a consistent stance against acts of violence and hatred as a company.
- The idea of having a process or template in place is not to be robotic or impersonal, but to ensure nothing is missed. Though we are including some example communications, your responses should be personalized, heartfelt and genuine. It's okay to go "off script" when that's what makes sense.
Questions to ask yourself
How will you decide what to respond to? Some options include:
- Prioritizing responses to events that are aligned with where your company has a high concentration of team members. This could be geographical, or reflect the various personal identities of your team.
- Prioritizing responses that align with your organization’s mission or values.
While you don’t have to respond to everything, it is important that you respond to and acknowledge the things that impact your team.
Will you make donations? If so, consider:
- How much will you donate annually? Is there a set budget?
- Will you donate equally across causes as they come up, or is there a scale?
- Who decides how much to donate to each cause?
- Do you disclose externally how much you have donated?
- How do you decide what organization you are going to donate to? And how are you going to answer why you chose that specific organization?
Alternatively, you can decide as an organization which causes are closest to your heart, and focus your donation strategy there, regardless of world events. At Bright + Early, we focus our charitable efforts on organizations dedicated to diversifying the workforce through our Bright + Early Better Workplaces Fund.
What kind of support should you offer your own team? Some options to consider include:
- A list of key contacts. Who should staff reach out to if they want to talk? Their manager? HR? A diversity and inclusion leader?
- A reminder of any relevant benefits, like an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or therapy access.
- Time off. There is no one-size-fits-all solution here; you’ll have to work with people individually on what they might need. It could be just a single day off to process difficult news. In the case of a major localized event, more could be required. For example, a number of our client companies have had employees who were located in a place where war broke out. These team members, understandably, required quite a bit of time off for relocation and other emergency needs.
- A general acknowledgement of understanding that during a traumatic event, some team members may not be working at their full capacity as they process this news.
- Additional emergency support, if relevant. In the above mentioned case of war, our client companies reached out to provide affected staff with financial assistance for their moving and housing expenses.
- Educational resources for people to learn more about the issue at hand. You’ll want to ensure these resources are well-vetted and from reliable organizations.
- An understanding that many people who are impacted by traumatic news do not want to discuss them at work, or may be triggered by ongoing shares and takes on the issue. Consider making a separate, opt-in channel if team members want to have an extended discussion about the event.
Who should be involved in these conversations and decisions?
If relevant (and existing), it’s best to consult with the following team members on crisis response:
- Internal Communications
- Any relevant Employee Resource Group leaders
What will you say to employees? Who should say it, and where?
Have a plan for who will post or share a statement internally, and where that statement will be shared. Generally, we advise:
- Using whatever your most common default “headquarters” is; perhaps this is your Slack’s “general” channel, or a specific one you use similarly. Maybe it’s email. If you have an in-person workforce, ask everyone to gather in your usual spot.
- While it may sometimes be appropriate for DEI leaders or HR to make a statement, the more major the event, the more we recommend the CEO make the statement themselves. This sends a message that the entire organization is aligned in caring about the issue at hand, and that it’s not simply an HR or DEI issue.
A solid internal message will cover the following:
- Acknowledge what happened.
- Make a statement regarding the company's stance on the topic. Why does the company have this stance? Can you connect it to your values and mission?
- Remind staff of the resources available to them if they need support.
- Inform people of any action the company is taking or has taken (donations, etc), if relevant.
- Share resources for people to educate themselves on the topic.
- Include a statement, link, or resource to the work being done at your company to address tough world issues. Do you have a corporate social responsibility plan, or an annual donation program? Are any of your policies (ex: an anti-oppression policy) relevant to share here?
- If using email, consider choosing a subject line with enough detail that people can identify the topic and choose to opt out if they aren’t prepared to read about it. On Slack, or anywhere else without subject lines, you can consider a trigger warning.
- Again, be genuine. This template is provided to get you started and to give you a general idea of what to cover, but any message concerning a serious, traumatic event should be written from the heart.
I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge the news of XYZ [very brief, not providing detail]. For those of you who haven’t seen the news, XYZ [short description similar to a news headline, possibly linking to an article]. This is important to us/me because [connect to values, personal experiences, mission, or whatever moves you]. I wanted to share some resources on ways we can all do our part to help XYZ [i.e. support the humanitarian response to XXX, combat XYZ, etc]. COMPANY is actively working to ensure that [issue] is not occuring at COMPANY through [employee resource groups, DEI work, other initiatives], and we have also [list any donations or external steps you have taken, if relevant].
For any employees having a difficult time, here is list of some of the resources you have available. You can:
- Check in with your manager
- Check in with a member of the HR or DEI team
- Leverage our [Employee Assistance Program, therapy benefits, etc]
- Check in on each other
- Take time if you need it
If you’re unfamiliar with [issue], here are some resources to learn more [Link directly to vetted and verified resources].
As the news unfolds, we understand that many people who are impacted by traumatic news do not want to discuss it at work, or may be triggered by ongoing shares and takes on the issue. While discussion is welcome, we ask that people be considerate of this and consider opt-in channels, or checking in first.
My DM’s are open to anyone who wants to chat or has questions.