A crucial first step has been simply acknowledging what has happened, Deborah Grayson Riegel, a communication and leadership expert who has taught at Columbia and Wharton Business Schools, told HR Brew. “It’s bad news for everyone, but different perspectives of bad news.”
Looking within themselves, HR leaders have had to confront their own personal feelings about what has happened and how that has effected their own loved ones or colleagues before approaching their own employees. “The first work that you need to do is on yourself, to recognize that you may have some biases that show up in a conversation,” Grayson Riegel said. “It may be helpful as a [HR] person to acknowledge the truth…my job as a human resources leader is not to let my personal opinions impact how I equitably support everyone.”
Uber’s former chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer, Bo Young Lee, weighed in on her LinkedIn page in what Fortune called a master class in how Uber responded to the 2021 Israel-Palestine conflict and how HR professionals can learn from that amid the current war. “She acknowledged that the dynamics in the Middle East are long-standing conflicts that even the most knowledgeable historians and peace negotiators find difficult to decipher," Fortune editor Ruth Umoh writes. “Ultimately, she said, the company decided to host educational sessions for employees through its interfaith [employee resource group] to help folks gain context and understanding.”
In her LinkedIn post, Lee recounted how she dealt with the fight between Israeli and Palestinian forces in 2021 and the immediate flood of messages to her inbox and Slack “from employees demanding the company make a statement about the events.”
“Sentiments were split almost evenly,” Lee wrote last month. “All of our employees were still processing the trauma of the pandemic, the murder of George Floyd, the escalation of anti-AAPI hate crimes, and recovering from the layoffs that took place in 2020.” Lee noted that “about half the messages I received demanded that the company support the BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction) movement, while the other half demanded we stand with Israel.”
“Interestingly, our employees who lived in the region of conflict were remarkably quiet,” she wrote. “It was a tough situation to be in with very little space to navigate without pissing someone off.”
Lee embraced a multi-step approach to deal with the 2021 conflict. First, Uber asked employees why they sought out diversity, equity and inclusion resources in the company. She noted that employees said they did not know who else to go to.
The follow-up step was to host listening sessions for staff to “give them space to process their reactions.” The third-step was to contact outside experts, including the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding, which focuses on religion in the workplace. In her LinkedIn post, Lee explains how her team at Uber created a decision making formula with the following questions to help guide their approach in 2021:
- Do the events impact our business, our employees, or our partners?
- Will a stance help us serve our customers, earners, employees, or community stakeholders?
- Is this an area we have expertise in?
- Are the suggested actions consistent with our values?
- Can our voice add value or make a material impact on the outcome of the events?
One way employers and HR can step up is in how they handle leave requests, Society for Human Resource Management notes. For companies with a paid leave policy, employers may give employees that have accrued time paid time off and deny those who don’t have accrued time.
“The denial of leave to those who haven't accrued it illustrates one reason open leave, where employees can take off as much time as they need within reason, might be a preferable method to accrued leave,” writes Allen Smith, manager, workplace law content at SHRM. “Open leave might avoid some of the perceived unfairness among those who wonder why some people can take time off in response to disturbing events while others can’t.”