This week’s insurrection in Washington, D.C., by pro-Trump supporters is the latest alarming national event to impact the psyche of American workers, already strapped by social unrest and a global pandemic. While HR pundits have urged leaders to prioritize employees’ mental health in light of the events, many are also strategizing how to address a population that could be particularly affected: Black employees.
For many, Wednesday’s crisis illuminated deep racial disparities, especially after a year in which racial justice protests following the police killings of several Black individuals ended in the use of force and mass arrests.
In a public address the day after the riots, President-Elect Biden highlighted the issue.
“No one can tell me that if it had been a group of Black Lives Matter protesting yesterday, they wouldn’t have been treated very, very differently than the mob of thugs that stormed the Capitol. We all know that’s true, and it is unacceptable,” Biden said. “Totally unacceptable.”
That’s a reality that can be triggering for many Black Americans and can seep into the workplace, whether remote or not. To address that burden, says author and psychotherapist Asha Tarry, employers, led by HR, need to put compassion at the forefront.
“There isn’t something new to do in this situation, it’s something to continually do—and that is to listen,” she says.
Listen to employees who want to express concerns, but understand that those who have faced issues like systemic racism may not necessarily want to right now, she notes. Creating the space where they feel comfortable to do so, however, is important.
Ensure all employees know how to access employee assistance programs and encourage them to utilize PTO and be “present to their mental health needs.” At the start of the day, make mention of current events in employee communications and urge workers to take care of their wellness.
Don’t necessarily try to understand the “rage, sadness and despair” that many people of color are feeling, especially “if it feels inauthentic to you and you aren’t motivated to change personal ethics of your own,” Tarry says. But those who do want to challenge themselves in order to connect with employees should heighten their own awareness about the connection between trauma and workplace performance, as well as the red flags for stress, burnout or PTSD.
On a broader scale, Tarry says, HR leaders should commit to making “emotional intelligence” a cornerstone of company culture, bolstered by training and a focus on rooting out implicit bias.
“There’s really no need to wait for executive leadership to set the standard,” she adds. “On a micro level, interrogate yourself and ask yourself, ‘How do I want to lead my employees? And what am I leading them towards?’ ”