Addressing World Events at Work

Photo by  João Silas  on  Unsplash

Photo by João Silas on Unsplash

If you’re interested in more of this conversation, Kim Tran, Ph.D and Rachel Marcuse COO of the ReadySet team will host a webinar about how and when to address world events on August 22nd at 9:30am PST. Register here.


By: Kim Tran Ph. D

The Gilroy Garlic Festival is 20 minutes from my hometown. It is an event nearly everyone in my big family has attended. This proximity means that a few weeks ago, I did something that I hope no one ever has to do. I called and texted my family and friends with a lone question, “Are you safe? There’s a shooting.” I was lucky. None of us were impacted by the shooter who complained of “hordes of mestizos” and plugged white supremacist books on his Instagram days before he killed three people, including six-year old Stephen Romero.

Afterward, I was shaken to my core, but I still had to go to work. In the subsequent days, Americans experienced two much larger racially-motivated mass shootings. At the same time, I met with clients, facilitated trainings and answered emails as my Twitter feed, Facebook account and Instagram filled with anguish and rage. This strange dissonance is something we all encounter. But employers have a unique responsibility to steward the dual reality that we are both people in the world and workers on a team.

To that end, how should managers and leadership respond in the face of catastrophe? While there’s no one size fits all model, there are best practices for how to engage your team when the world comes knocking at your office door.

Say Something

Oftentimes, I find leaders who are afraid of causing political offense or saying the wrong thing. I call this “the freeze.” The freeze inhibits people from addressing everything from microaggressions to mass shootings. While the freeze is derivative of a valid fear, it’s much more important that your teams know that you can and do recognize significant national moments than to go about the workday as though what occurs outside its doors has no impact on the people between your four walls. So send the team email, make a short announcement, mention it in an all staff meeting. Purely and simply engaging will go a long way to ensure your team is and stays people centered.

Be Yourself

There is no “right way” to respond to a domestic attack. People exhibit a myriad of emotions in the face of terror. Whether you get angry, shed a tear or feel in shock, stay authentic to yourself. Whatever your honest response may be, stay true to your reaction. Your sincerity will model that it’s okay to bring your full self to the place where we spend the majority of our time; our workplace.

Find Resources

When Christine Blasey Ford testified that Supreme Court Justice Brett Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her over three decades ago, the National Sexual Assault Hotline saw a 147% increase in calls from people seeking support. The topic of gender-based violence was everywhere, in our feeds and on our minds. What happens in the national or global news cycle directly affects people at work, which means leadership needs to be prepared with support for those who need it. Make sure you have mental health resources readily available for those who need them.

Listen Actively

For leaders, the well-being of team members is paramount. In the midst of world events, this means keeping your door open and being available for conversations about the things that may come up for those dealing with the impact of violence. For tough days, consider holding special office hours or facilitating an all-staff discussion about what’s coming up for people in your organization. In so doing, you can create a release valve for tension, fear and pressure that people may be holding in these moments. You can also build a community in the workplace.

Be Humble

Good leadership depends on humility. You don’t need to have the perfect response, you don’t need to have the ideal resource, but you absolutely do need to make sure that when you mess up, you admit to your shortcomings. Every person has knowledge gaps, which means that in the process of saying something, being yourself, finding resources and listening actively, many will falter. Don’t let the fear of a mistake prevent you from showing up for your team. Instead, begin by being honest about your faults and welcoming feedback when you misstep. This will make your leadership stronger and more flexible.

If you’re interested in more of this conversation, Kim Tran, Ph.D and Rachel Marcuse COO of the ReadySet team will host a webinar about how and when to address world events on August 22nd at 9:30am PST. Register here.

Willie Jackson