It’s impossible to stop the news from affecting the workplace when the world bombards us with information about war, humanitarian crises, a global pandemic, senseless violence and lingering racial tensions.
When leaders fail to address current events, topics that almost certainly affect a portion of their employees, they miss a huge opportunity to build trust, belonging, and connection. Leaders need to metaphorically reach across the table to check in with their team and see if anyone has concerns or is affected by the breaking news.
What happens when good leaders ignore bad news?
Many traditional leaders believe that matters outside of work are personal and should be left aside. Your personal life is not the business of the company. Some assume no one is affected because the news doesn’t affect them directly or because they’re very good at blocking anything other than work. Others want to acknowledge the news and support their staff, but don’t know how to bring up the subject without upsetting people.
Whatever your reasons for not engaging in a conversation about current events, the result is that you seem indifferent or disconnected from those affected by the crisis. They feel invisible and isolated in their worry or loss. Even when leaders choose not to discuss current events, the news reverberates throughout the workplace and all employees notice the lack of leadership involvement in the conversation.
What happens when good leaders address bad news?
As a leader, it is your responsibility to support your employees and lead your team through the current crisis. When you recognize the impact of a difficult situation on people’s personal lives, you connect with them as human beings. By connecting with their experience, you show compassion and offer them the respect to be noticed and heard.
This change – this act of turning to the other person – creates a deeper connection. It builds trust and loyalty. It lets your employees know that they are part of a larger system that cares about them.
These days, employees are quitting their jobs by the thousands. In many cases, they leave because they feel like their employers don’t care about them or their experience at the company. To turn the tide, it’s time to create opportunities for open discussion and genuine connection.
Three steps to communicate with your team in times of crisis.
The path to having these interactions is simpler than you might think, but it all starts with creating a safe environment within the organization. It’s the only way someone will feel comfortable enough to share what they’re going through. Here are three steps you can take to communicate with your team during a difficult news cycle:
- Acknowledge the incident publicly. In an email meeting or company-wide town hall, name the event and clearly state where you are at so your team knows if it’s safe to talk about it with you. Keep it simple, like:
- “We are all witnessing the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Ukraine. We would like to make a contribution to an organization that provides relief.”
- “Fires in the west are raging. If you have any suggestions on how we can support residents in these areas, please let us know.”
- “The tension on the streets of our city is palpable. We are hosting an open dialogue tomorrow night for anyone who wishes to join us.”
- Recognize the impact the news has on your team. After naming the event, you need to show your team that you know it impacts them in different ways and that some may be more directly affected than others. It helps to show your humanity here too:
- “I find it hard to understand all the news. I find the information overwhelming and distracting, even though I don’t have any friends or family in the area.”
- “I wonder how the news on this very difficult topic affects everyone. Be sure to address these issues in your team meetings.”
- “If you or your family are directly affected by the current crisis and are comfortable telling us, we would like to support you if we can.”
- Offer your support. Offer a listening ear without forcing people to share their difficulties. Let them know how you might be able to support them. Again, you can keep this short and simple:
- “If you want to talk, I’m here to listen. And if you need additional support, like a few days off to take care of your family, or a reduced workload, we can work with your manager to make the necessary adjustments.”
Opening the door to these conversations will create a sense of unity and connection that will result in a “we’re in this together” culture. And that should be the end goal for all work environments. Even if you have to tell someone that you “wish we could help you more than we can,” you demonstrate that they matter to you and to the entire organization.
What message do you want to send?
Choosing to remain silent about what happens outside the office doors may seem like the safest bet. But your silence makes a strong statement, and it may not be the one you want to convey. Your action or inaction sends a strong signal to your employees. If you make it clear that everyone is part of the larger organization, you help them feel connected to you, their workplace, and each other. This feeling of connection will help your entire team get through the toughest times.
Finally, let me allay any fears you may have when speaking to your team during an intense news cycle: you don’t have to be perfect. You just need to be present and care about your employees with genuine compassion. Nothing will help your organization run better than when everyone recognizes the humanity of the other.