Let’s agree, if possible, on one thing in this moment of national division: There are many Americans fearful of Donald Trump’s presidency.
You may not be fearful. And if you voted for Trump, you may believe that people have nothing to fear. But your comfort level or confidence does little to allay the fears of others.
They will wake up concerned. And they will go to work distracted. And, no matter how you might personally feel about things, the emotional state of a sizable swath of the population is of significant importance to employers.
“People need to feel supported,” said Andee Harris, chief engagement officer at HighGround, a Chicago-based company that provides software aimed at keeping employees motivated and involved. “CEOs need to make sure they’re aware of what’s going on in politics and realize how hard this is going to be for some of their employees. There are a lot of good things a CEO can do, and I think empathy is a big piece of that.”
I can already hear the mumbles of tough-guy folks out there ready to make a snide “safe space” comment or generally tell people to suck it up.
I have two comments for those people:
First, the 1950s called and you’re wanted back there.
Second, don’t be a knucklehead.
Most of us spend a majority of our waking hours working, and researchers, experts and people with brains enough to rattle have concluded that those hours are more productive when we feel secure, appreciated and engaged.
So the result of the presidential election doesn’t demand a sea change in the way companies manage their cultures. It just makes this a good time to double down on a culture that promotes civility and inclusiveness.
“As a leader, you ought to be very, very concerned about any scenario that causes people to feel unsafe,” said S. Chris Edmonds, an executive consultant with The Purposeful Culture Group and author of “The Culture Engine.” “You don’t want people who think, ‘My workplace is unfair. I’m not getting credit. People discount and demean and dismiss way more than they validate and praise and encourage. Here I am at the workplace during the week more than I am with my family, and it’s not a safe place.’”
Edmonds posited: “If people felt trusted and respected in the workplace, then we might not have as huge a disconnect in society. We might not have as big a polarization as we have.”
Harris said everything starts with communication. Bosses and managers should reassure employees that regardless of what’s happening in the country at large, the culture at work is one that embraces diversity, respect and kindness.
“If we can control what’s happening in our own world and the people around us, treating them with kindness and courtesy and respect for each other, then a lot of things that are happening outside won’t affect us as much,” Harris said. “We need to bring people together, maybe by doing more town halls and using technology to make sure there are open lines of communication.”
Edmonds agreed: “There’s a lot of instability that happens in our towns and our neighborhoods and our country, but in our workplaces we can certainly reduce the incivility that happens.”
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And to do that, he said, “you need to make values as important as results.”
He said many companies lack an “organizational reaction” to incivility. It just goes unchecked.
“So let’s create some rules around how we treat each other,” Edmonds said. “Some think that’s a little too ‘Kumbaya.’ So I say, ‘Would it be worth your time and energy if you saw a 40 percent gain in engagement, a 40 percent gain in customer satisfaction and a 35 percent gain in production?’ Because if you reduce the dismissive, demeaning experiences people have in the workplace, it will show up.”
It’s not easy. Leaders have to model the behaviors they expect to see and invest time in “showing it, teaching it and making sure it’s happening.”
Harris said that for many women, the presidential election was a picture of workplace sexism writ large: A less-qualified man prevailing over a woman with decades of experience. (I realize the reality is more nuanced than that, so please don’t email me and yell about “Crooked Hillary.”)
“Women need other women to advocate for them, they need senior leaders to advocate for them, they need to know people are fighting for them in the boardroom,” she said. “It’s hard to navigate, especially if you feel like you’re not valued or respected.”
She added: “I think we have made a lot of progress, but from a woman’s perspective, not just the election of Trump but even his Cabinet that we’re seeing, it feels like a step back.”
I know not everyone agrees with that assessment. But it’s important right now that we respect the feelings and concerns of our co-workers. Trump was not a conventional candidate, and there are no signs yet that he’s going to run a conventional administration.
That puts some people on edge. And workplaces have a vested interest in smoothing those edges wherever possible.
“This is going to be a distraction for a long time,” Edmonds said. “Yes it is. Don’t worry about that, just craft an organizational constitution and control the stuff you can. And you can control a lot more than you have been. It’s really about making civility a minimum of how we treat each other.”
I hope that’s something — even if it’s the only thing — we can all agree on.
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Rex Huppke writes for the Chicago Tribune. Send him questions by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @RexWorksHere.