How to Support your Team through Traumatic Events
On January 6th, the United States and the world went through one of the darkest and most turbulent moments in history: the siege of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. The mob’s intention was to interrupt the symbolic transition of power to President-elect Biden by terrorizing Congressional representatives in session and defacing the center of government. No matter your political inclinations, the images and video coming out of the siege were jarring and traumatic for many. Many looked on in horror as domestic terrorists were breaking into the Capitol brandishing guns, Nazi symbols on their clothing, and the will to kill if needed to achieve their goals. Unusually high security in the following weeks made many feel uneasy, with people half- or fully anticipating another violent event on Inauguration Day. Although the inauguration ceremony thankfully happened without incident, the anticipation itself leading up to Inauguration Day extended the trauma. Events like this can be demoralizing and earth-shattering for your team, colleagues, and clients. Typically, talking about politics and current events at work is regarded as touching the third rail. Political views are defined by deeply-held values that we all hold. Getting into political discussions at work can get heated and uncomfortable, sometimes only resulting in hurt feelings and resentments. Picking your battles (and discussions) is important!
But sticking to total avoidance of politics and current affairs is also detrimental to the health of your work culture. Because politics is about policy, and policy affects people. A policy can uplift or hurt entire communities, which affects the quality of life of your team and colleagues on personal levels. With an event like the siege on the Capitol, it will bring up deep hurt, rage, anxiety, or some combination of all those feelings. Here are some tips on how to support your team during crises:
1 - Reach out and address the elephant in the room. Instead of asking how they’re doing, which can feel perfunctory, ask “What do you need to feel supported?” This question acknowledges the obvious discomfort while giving you information on what different team members need. Some may need someone to listen, a shoulder to cry on, or simply “I’m here for you.” The more targeted your questions, the better.
2 - Use this information to learn about your team. Understanding the different kinds of support your team needs is crucial to building strong bonds so that your team can get through anything. Check in regularly with your team to build upon this information and how managers can incorporate personalized approaches to different people and situations to build strength through flexibility.
3 - Review your policies to allow for flexibility when people need to take a step back. I recommend designating “mental health” days into sick leave days, creating work from home and other flex work policies, and cross-training your team to pick up the slack if someone needs to take time off on short notice.
These tips are important to building a work culture based on transparency, compassion, and understanding. A supportive culture creates stronger teams.
Ibis Valdes is a consultant on diversity, inclusion, empowerment, and leadership. She now helps clients to press pause and refresh their brand, culture, and productivity through DEI strategy. Schedule your free assessment today by clicking here.
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