5 ways to show your employees you care
Monday, August 03, 2020
Since the end of February, we’ve been dealing with COVID-19, shelter in place, work from home, social distancing, less contact, and an ever-increasing awareness of racial inequities in the workplace, the community and across the globe.
As a country, we’re going fewer places, staying home more and thinking about the future of work. At the same time, there is a greater need to build stronger relationships amongst employees and between leaders and the people on the teams. What worked before will no longer work in the same way. It’s not enough to do one-time training on leadership, inclusion or communication. Employees want to know that that their organization cares about them.
That care is reflected in the culture, the interest leadership shows in their employees, and the way the employees treat each other. A workplace culture that contains systems and processes that continue to cycle demographic inequities in general and racial inequities is an obstacle to people feeling valued. A workplace culture that favors one group over another creates stress, anxiety and zaps the energy and creativity of employees not in the favored, dominant group.
We’ve been facilitating listening circles with employees from different groups for the last 20 years and with primarily Black employees for the last few months. We are hearing what it’s like for Black employees in their mostly white organizations and listening to suggestions for solutions. We’re also facilitating sessions with white employees who want to learn, express their thoughts and talk about what they can do to support equity and inclusion, and success for everyone.
In almost every organization, non-white employees share their feelings of being excluded from discussions, decision-making and sitting in meetings where someone has made a racist joke while other people laugh.
When any employee feels left out, isolated and overlooked it takes a toll on their ability to create, be productive and participate.
A common theme we hear when we speak with Black employees is how difficult it is to work in a culture where almost no one looks like them, where they are constantly having to prove themselves and justify their position in their organizations. Sometimes it takes the form of being questioned every time they enter their building, their office or even being introduced to co-workers. Other times, it’s being introduced to another manager as “extremely intelligent or qualified,” rather than just an introduction by name and position.
Too often, we hear of Black people and other people of color who have objected to being stereotyped being told, “you are too sensitive, we’re just joking.” This is from the people making the joke, their managers and in some cases even human resources.
When these practices become commonplace in an organization, the people impacted understandably think you and the organization don’t care.
“If I always have to worry about how I am perceived, if I always have to worry that I may be laughing too loud, being too direct or even how I sound as a Black person, it’s really difficult to focus on the work I need to do,” declared a Black employee in the hospitality industry.
Another Black employee said, “I would like my manager to get to know me instead of acting like I don’t exist.”
I often hear leaders say, “I treat people the way they want to be treated.” But when I talk to their employees, I find that’s not true. “How does she know how I want to be treated? She never spoke to me,” said one Latinx employee.
If you want your employees to do their best work, you want to rid your organization of racial inequities and you do care about your employees, you have find ways to show it. You have to be open to the fact that your “best” was not that good when it comes to cultural understanding, overall empathy and taking actions that make people feel the organization cares.
Here are five ways to show your employees that you care.
1. Get to know more of them. I say this over and over, use your phone, FaceTime, Zoom, etc., if you don’t see them in person. Start contacting employees that you don’t often speak with, and make sure you call employees that don’t look like you.
Find out how they are impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Tell them you know there are racial inequities and you want to end those inequities. It’s ok to ask people about their experiences with systems and processes. Just don’t expect them to “take care” of you.
2. Check out who is in your organization and their cultural backgrounds. Take real time to learn about the history of these cultures, the unique and similar challenges people from them face and how those challenges have been met in different organizations.
Read about holidays and celebrations that are meaningful and be able to discuss them. A Black employee in the tech industry tried to tell their manager the significance of Juneteenth only to have the managers say it wasn’t Black History Month, so they didn’t need to discuss it.
3. Even if you’ve taken 100 bias classes, do more work on bias by educating yourself about common stereotypes and biases about different groups. Review your own personal history to explore whether you grew up with those biases and still hold them. Then, keep engaging with people who don’t look like you and stop yourself every time a biased thought enters your head. Take it from the intellectual theory of bias your everyday behavior.
4. Stop assuming that there is only one way to communicate, make decisions or express yourself. Talk to people who are different. Notice some of the differences and stop yourself every time you want to make another person wrong based on your cultural experience. Listen for substance.
5. Let your employees know you care and ask them what makes them feel cared about as an employee. If you don’t take the time to understand another person’s culture but just judge everyone based on your own experience, not only will you limit creativity, you’ll be a leader in name only with a narrow point of view and little opportunity to excel as an individual and as part of an organization.
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