How to Address National Tragedies at Work

Every Friday morning, NOBL has a status meeting that always starts with a check-in round. This past Friday, everyone talked about not being able to ignore the shootings in Minnesota, Louisiana, and Dallas, so we decided the only thing we could talk about in this week’s newsletter is what to do as a company when weeks like this occur.

What do you do as a leader when things go bad? Maybe it’s stressful because of an internal issue, or maybe it’s an external issue that’s on the mind of your employees, unspoken or not.

Don’t gloss over it. While the initial reaction may be to go back to “business as usual,” you should make it clear that you are open to listening. Some people will want to take you up on it, others won’t. It’s really easy to want to be an open “human” organization when things are going well. But when things get difficult, not so much.

There’s no one right way companies can address difficult situations:

  • Advertising agency Wieden Kennedy replaced its website with an essay on #blacklivesmatter. The essay originated from an internal email from one of the agency’s African-American employees. The leadership team decided to put it on the site as a show of support and a way to open a dialogue.

  • Mark Zuckerberg publicly commented on the video showing the aftermath of Philando Castile’s shooting, which streamed on Facebook Live. He offered his condolences but also noted, “it reminds us why coming together to build a more open and connected world is so important -- and how far we still have to go.” In addition, Facebook put up a "Black Lives Matter" sign at its headquarters and held a moment of silence.

  • Coworking spaces in Dallas opened their doors for free to those who had been displaced due to buildings being closed in an effort to support a “united community.”

However you choose to work through it as a team, your first goal is to foster psychological safety. In order for teams to move forward, they have to feel safe enough to take risks and know that they can rely on each other for support. There are also some simple steps you can take to help people manage stress in general:

  1. Encourage communication. Be open and available to discuss issues. Supporting team members in times of success and trials will create stronger bonds and reward a culture of vulnerability.

  2. Be kind. Be patient and supportive as people work through things—this can be as simple as checking in with a team member every so often. Small acts of kindness during times of trouble will foster team solidarity in the long term.

  3. Give support to be supported. Give props to people on your team, especially during times of distress and low morale. Colleagues will be more likely to offer up their time and attention to you when they’ve felt and received the same kindness in the past. This technique will also promote a culture of selflessness, helping team members consider others’ needs above their own.


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