From school shootings to police brutality to human rights violations – the news headlines of today are dominated by stories of tragedy. This inundation of injustices often lead to fear, anxiety, disgust, and – perhaps the scariest response of all – desensitization.
At The Courage Collective, we continue to partner with People & Culture leaders who are exhausted, struggling to maintain their sensitivities after a blistering two-years of one national tragedy after another. And we shouldn’t take these symptoms lightly. History is clear, dehumanization starts with desensitization – and apathy is a normal reaction to compassion fatigue.
In this period where compassion fatigue is arguably at its highest, especially for people doing the hard work of advancing DEI initiatives, many are silently wrestling with this question: “Do I have to respond to every tragedy?”
If this is you – you’re not alone, and you shouldn’t feel ashamed for feeling the pressure. We’re feeling it too. So we’ve pulled together a few best-practices to help you maintain your compassion and efficiently allocate your energies as you consider what to do.
If every time there’s a tragic event, your organization finds itself scrambling to rally the Employee Resource Groups, create a new benefit, or unite the communications team to articulate the perfect tweet, it’s time to re-strategize.
The truth is, obsessing over the ideal public response won’t serve you in the long-run. A more efficient use of your energy (and dollars) is to establish a proactive ecosystem that centers the needs of your employees and equips your organization to meaningfully contribute to the solution.
A pro-active ecosystem positions leaders to respond to external events from an inside-out approach – grounded in your organization’s mission, strategy, and values. And the key ingredients to this shift are consistency and authenticity. Leaders don’t have to respond publicly to every news story, but they should feel equipped to communicate to employees how external events impact internal policies (i.e., abortion benefits, immigration support, etc.) and where employees can go for support. Speaking publicly prior to having internal support mechanisms established, puts your organization – specifically leaders – at risk of virtue signaling.
Tangible elements of a proactive ecosystem might look like:
Ultimately, it’s about establishing authentic care for the people within your organization. Once you have successfully created a culture where your employees feel psychologically safe, your responses to social ills will rise organically.
Values are a key foundation to any ecosystem. When determining next steps after a tragedy, take time to assess whether your response is situational or a natural outgrowth of your company culture.
Situational values are those that arise when a business or individual is under stress, under conflict, or facing a challenge. At the individual-level, this can look like the argument of “my body, my choice” meaning two different things when applied to wearing a mask versus whether or not a person has a right to an abortion. At a company level, this looks like espousing values of equality and respect and plastering those on posters, yet still continuing to do business with partners that uphold discriminatory practices. This trend of external pressures creating a constant moving target of values was especially apparent back in 2020.
Cultural values, on the other hand, serve as your guiding compass regardless of which storm rolls in. These core values can be a helpful tethering pole in times of crisis when determining how to respond in the aftermath of tragedy. Although it requires a great deal of effort on the front end, clearly defining and reinforcing core values reduces the amount of sweat equity an organization will have to expend once tragedy strikes. When you know who you are and what you stand for, it leads to less scrambling in the future. Your values should yield an organic reaction that defines where you’ve always stood instead of only speaking to where you currently stand based upon the tides of public opinion.
To do an audit, take stock of the language, energy, and actions of leaders in times when the status quo is challenged or the company is being asked to step up and speak out. Then compare this observation to what is observed during times when guards are lowered and public pressure has abated. Share your notes with leadership to determine an accountability plan for how to reconcile any differences in company posture.
Companies are often looking for that perfectly crafted response. However, seeking perfection is the antithesis to a human-centered approach. Communities are not monolithic; therefore, no response will ever encompass the diaspora of people impacted by a given tragedy. One response doesn’t fit all, so your leadership would be well-served by generating multiple paths for grieving team members to take.
Some employees might need a thoughtful check-in from a manager and some time off. For others, sympathetic acknowledgement expressed via social media or a LinkedIn post will suffice. And some might appreciate a company organized opportunity to vulnerably share and compassionately listen in a safe space.
When putting forth a response, understand that you simply cannot make everyone feel happy, heard, or acknowledged at a macro level. Don’t get us wrong – putting forth public statements, broadly announcing change to processes, etc. are important steps. However, it’s an impossible standard and shortsighted view to assume that these symptomatic treatments will bring comfort to all employees.
Instead of emphasizing the creation of the “perfect statement,” encourage a localized human-centered response. This looks like managers and leaders checking in with employees personally. It looks like being flexible with benefits, policies, and other forms of corporate support. It looks like meeting the unique needs of employees in times of fear and stress. It also looks like caring for yourself because you are human too.
The reality is, there isn’t a perfect checklist or crisis-response decision tree. As frustrating as this can be, prioritizing individuals will ultimately lead to a more human-focused organization and an ecosystem that is inherently more inclusive, more equitable, and more compassionate— a place where people want to stay.
If you or your organization is looking for a partner to support your DEI efforts or guide you in this framework, let’s chat: firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Courage Collective
The Courage Collective is a consultancy that takes a strategic, holistic, and human-centered approach to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) in the workplace. Our approach prioritizes courage, empathy and intentional action to create meaningful and lasting impact across the entire employee journey. More information on The Courage Collective’s approach and services is available at thecouragecollective.co.