What’s going on in the world is always going to be a talking point at work – but with so much conflict in the news, and such sharply-divided opinions, it’s important those “water-cooler” conversations don’t turn into anything more serious. So how should employers approach these issues and avoid global conflicts from affecting the workplace?
Remember that all people are individuals
Race, religion and belief are “protected characteristics” under the Equality Act 2010, so it’s important that people don’t suffer discrimination or harassment because of those characteristics. It can be easy to take a lot of notice of those with obvious attributes or those who express strong opinions. However, many people don’t like to talk about their religion or belief. It’s important to remember that everyone is an individual and could be particularly sensitive to a certain issue.
Examples of this include the “Black Lives Matter” movement, which brought to the fore historic injustices suffered by black people. Perhaps more topical are the intense and brutal conflicts in other parts of the world, particularly in Ukraine and the Middle East. It’s important to remember that people may have friends or family caught up in the conflicts.
Workforces are increasingly diverse, with a wide variety of races, nationalities, religions and beliefs being represented in any organisation. The law gives everyone important rights, but these are balanced by respecting the rights of others. Employers face the unenviable task of balancing these rights and maintaining harmony in the workplace. Remember, as an employer, you may be legally responsible for the actions of your staff unless you can show you’ve taken reasonable steps to prevent discrimination and harassment.
Be sensitive to human issues
Having a diverse workforce means that your staff may be affected by world events in ways you can’t see. SNP leader Humza Yousaf has told of his fears for his family caught up in the Middle East conflict and his story will be repeated in workplaces throughout the UK.
People may need support at different times because of what’s going on in the world and it’s important to be sensitive to mental health and wellbeing issues.
You aren’t taking sides if you support the individual as best you can. Some employers may offer mental health or wellbeing support; others may offer time off or flexible working options. It’s important to ensure the support you give is done on a confidential basis – many people won’t want fellow workers to know about what is a personal matter.
Your staff aren’t responsible for the conflicts in the world
It’s important to get the message out to everyone that, while staff members may support or sympathise with one side or the other in any world conflict, they themselves are not the cause of, or participants in, the conflict – and mustn’t be treated as such.
So, make it clear that discrimination and harassment won’t be tolerated (your anti-harassment and bullying and equal opportunities and diversity policies come into play here). This includes any “passive” behaviour that may cause offence to others, such as the displaying of flags or posters at work.
Take care to avoid causing offence unintentionally
People can feel intimidated or harassed if they overhear the conversations of others expressing strong opinions. Anti-harassment laws apply even if an individual was not the intended recipient of any remark.
Make sure your team don’t assume that everyone shares their views on world events and that they take care to avoid expressing opinions that others may find objectionable – even if the comments weren’t aimed at them.
Consider social media activity
Social media is a constant source of news, information and mis-information, often conveyed by people with very strong and strident views or particular agendas.
At times of increasing tensions in the world, it’s important to take the time to sense-check your organisation’s social media activity. Social media teams may be given a considerable amount of scope to post materials and to respond to events, but may unintentionally allow their world view to affect their output – so ensure material is sense-checked by management before it’s posted.
Employers have limited control of their employees’ personal social media activity, but having a social media policy that seeks to limit the impact of personal postings on your organisation can be useful.
Remember your workforce works best as a team
It’s often said that there is more that unites us than divides us and that’s especially true of workplaces.
Try and ensure everyone leaves their differences at the workplace door and focuses on the positive aspects of working as a team. Your organisation’s purpose and culture is what brings your team together.
Finally, don’t tolerate harassment or discrimination
It’s worth re-reading (and asking your workforce to re-read) your workplace policies on Anti-Harassment and Bullying and Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. This will help you to remind your staff of the rules and the consequences of breaking them.
Your citrus HR system can support you to remind people to read these policies and confirm that they have done so.
But, you do need to be prepared to act to if you need to. It’s key that your people understand and respect the boundaries of acceptable behaviour, this can mean taking disciplinary action if necessary.
Our HR consultants can support you and your management team. We can put in place policies and procedures to help avoid global conflict impacting your workplace. We can also support you in taking appropriate action when it is needed.
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