This year has been punctuated with seismic events that could take an emotional toll on the wellbeing of your employees – and that’s not counting the ongoing pandemic.

Currently, former police officer Derek Chauvin is awaiting sentencing for the murder of George Floyd, whose death sparked protests around the world and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement.

His recent trial, broadcast globally, relived in graphic detail the final moments of George Floyd’s life and brought to the fore deep and long-held feelings of injustice within the Black community.

Such a historic event, even if just witnessed through a screen, has the ability to be very triggering, and it is important employers recognise and be ready to support their people at such turbulent times.

What is a trigger?

A trigger refers to something that affects your emotional state by making you feel distressed or overwhelmed. It often affects your ability to remain in the present and can influence your behaviour, for example, you may struggle to concentrate at work or feel like you don’t want to contribute.

Triggers can vary; they don’t have to be specific events that remind you of a past traumatic experience, they could be as simple as a phrase, sound or even a smell. Reading or watching the news can also have the same effect.

Another recent example of a triggering event is the tragic disappearance of Sarah Everard, which inspired a public outpouring around women’s safety and a vigil controversially handled by the police. Her unsettling and sadly relatable story brought up strong feelings of vulnerability and anger among many women.

The impact of Covid-19

News of Sarah Everard’s death broke at a time when women were already under considerable strain as a result of the pandemic, with many shouldering the responsibilities of childcare and home schooling alongside holding down their full-time jobs.

For anyone trying to cope with a triggering event, Covid-19 lockdowns have had a profound effect. Without the usual positive outlets people would usually rely on, such as time with friends and family, letting off steam at the gym or heading out for a nice meal, processing these emotions has been very challenging.

How can companies offer support?

Being proactive is important and the best way to get on the front foot is to ensure you’re fostering a culture where wellbeing is woven into the fabric of your workplace.

Organisations that position mental health on a par with physical health, and raise awareness of the importance of emotional wellbeing, help to normalise the idea of talking about historic events and how they make people feel.

Below are our top tips on how you can support your employees, but don’t be under any illusions that simply following these steps means your job is done. Practising empathy and demonstrating your values of inclusivity every day in your leadership is vital.

Acknowledge what’s happening

Moments, like the Black Lives Matter protests, provide an opportunity for you to reiterate your company’s values. You could utilise internal channels, such as team meetings or training sessions, and even produce an external statement outlining your commitment to equality and fair treatment and how you’re making it a priority.

However, avoid falling into the trap of performative allyship. Ensure what you say is truly authentic otherwise any knee jerk social comments not backed up by real action could soon be questioned by your co-workers, eroding trust and leading to potential reputational damage.

Offer reasonable adjustments

Don’t pretend it’s business as usual. Downplaying the impact of such events can harm morale and chip away at mental health.

Recognise their toll by giving your people the space to process their emotions. You can encourage self-care and show your empathy through offering days of leave or flexible working for those who feel they need it, allow extensions on deadlines, postpone non-urgent meetings or temporarily redistribute people’s responsibilities.

Create opportunities for discussion

People may want to talk about what’s going on so offer safe spaces, for example, through individual one-to-ones or discussions in large groups. Remember, it is not your job to drive conversations, rather simply participate and show your vulnerability through sharing your own reflections and experiences – an important step towards cultivating psychologically safe workplaces where people feel they can open up with confidence.

Support communities outside the workplace

Your actions outside of the workplace, as well as internally, can have a powerful impact so think about how you can contribute to communities affected by large-scale events that will help to push for positive change. For example, donating to organisations combatting social injustice or supporting suppliers run by women or Black business owners.

However, don’t let these external actions distract you from any internal challenges yet to be resolved.

 

To discover more about what it means to become a valuable ally, contact Tell Jane to speak to our seasoned HR practitioners who can support you and your people in implementing an effectual strategy. Email me at hello@telljane.co.uk to get started.

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