Hate crimes are at a disturbingly high rate in the U.S. What happens when one of your employees survives such a crime? The author, who is a victim of a hate crime himself, shares his story and describes why it can be so difficult to speak up about such an event at work. He then offers four suggestions to help managers who are part of an historically marginalized community: create psychological safety, respond with empathy, offer flexible work arrangements, and invest in tailored mental health resources.

It was an ordinary Tuesday in May. I decided to take a mid-day walk around my suburban New York neighborhood, in a community where my family has resided for nearly two decades. Suddenly, my laughs from a comedy podcast were interrupted. Within a span of 30 seconds, a vehicle I didn’t recognize stopped at a nearby stop sign.

Immediately, my training as a person of color kicked in: Lower the volume. Do not make eye contact. Look straight ahead. For the first time in my life, this approach did not work. The driver proceeded to scream atrocious racial slurs at me. In the heat of the moment, I verbally reacted — and this complete stranger drove over the curb and aimed their car towards me at full speed. If I had not jumped in the opposite direction that very second, I would have been hit.

The subsequent events are cloudy, filled with fear and confusion. A nearby neighbor came to my aid. The police came to ask questions. On the same curb where my body would have laid, I sat there, glaring at the damaged grass as tears filled my eyes. I could not comprehend how someone can harbor so much hate. As a first-generation child of South Asian immigrants, my life was about assimilation. I did what I was supposed to do, and yet I was not able to prevent this violent occurrence. I could only feel one emotion: helplessness.

Workplaces Cannot Ignore the Impact of Hate Crimes

The subsequent hours and days sent me into a downward spiral. I had to make the painful decision to withdraw my complaint to law enforcement so I could protect my family’s private information, like our home address. Still, I was petrified to leave my house. I laid awake at night, restless. I researched for hours, desperately attempting to find another route that would provide justice. Through all of the despair, however, I recognized my unique privilege to be working at Mind Share Partners, a non-profit that specializes in changing the culture of workplace mental health. I felt psychologically safe to share my story — and where my leadership team responded with grace, empathy, and flexibility.

Sadly, this decency is not given to all survivors of violent experiences, due to low levels of disclosures and a lack of understanding about how to help.

Today, hate crimes are occurring at a disturbing elevated rate, at the highest level over the past 12 years in the U.S. Racial trauma, in particular, can have a lasting impact on an individual, resulting in symptoms of PTSD, constant safety fears, and increased sentiments of loneliness. However, despite these credible threats, cultural stigma makes it difficult to seek support at work. For example, the AAPI community has competing conflicts of navigating identity that make it difficult to self-promote our achievements, as our culture teaches us to remain humble, stay under the radar, and work diligently.

As a direct result, survivors will continue to work — without saying a word. On the surface they may look fine, with every smile covering up the deep strain of stress and sorrow. But ultimately, an individual’s allegiance to the organization may shift if they do not feel supported. Unsurprisingly, Mind Share Partners’ 2021 Mental Health at Work Report in partnership with Qualtrics and ServiceNow found that 50% of workers reported having left previous roles at a company due, at least in part, to mental health reasons. This number grows to 81% of Gen Z and 68% of Millennials.

How Leaders Can Support Survivors and Their Mental Health

While mental health resources are becoming more prevalent across organizations, there is still a gap in how we create a culture where survivors of race-based violence feel safe to return to the office. In addition to the challenges many employers are experiencing trying to get employees back to the office almost three years into Covid-19, there is an added element of complexity organizations must consider when developing approaches for survivors. What do you do if an employee feels completely unsafe in leaving their home? What accommodations can you offer if an employee is petrified to take the same public route where they were attacked? How can you provide employees a sense of comfort that their physical and mental health are a priority at your organization?

Here are four ways to begin to answer these questions, rooted in both strategy and empathy.

Start with a foundation of psychological safety.

In order for any employee to disclose a violent experience, or anything this vulnerable for that matter, they must feel assured their job or reputation is not at risk. Organizations must make a conscious effort to create psychological safety — the belief that one can speak freely with their thoughts and concerns without punishment — around mental health and DEI topics.

There are three main dimensions of psychological safety: developing trust, providing transparency, and inclusive decision making. To create trust with their employees, leaders can model vulnerability on a consistent basis. Share your own challenges, so your employees feel safe to do the same. You do not have to disclose your most personal details, but share to the extent you are able to connect with your employees on a human level.

To provide transparency, help employees understand the “why” behind their responsibilities. Also be clear about deadlines, capacity constraints, and other critical data. Lastly, ensure your decision-making process includes diverse perspectives and healthy debates. Employees feel validated when they’re invited to share their thoughts. Due to structural racism, preconceived stereotypes, and cultural stigma, this is an opportunity to amplify voices that have been historically suppressed.

Alongside these broader strategies, you can establish a catered approach by implementing team norms in group or 1:1 meetings. Reserve the space to check in on your employees before you dive into discussing work-related items. As we continue to navigate constant crises in the news cycle, recognize how these events can impact your team. And continue to offer forums where employees can share freely without judgment, repercussions, and penalties.

Respond with empathy if an employee discloses being a survivor.

Even with a strong foundation of psychological safety, employees may still be hesitant in sharing any personal details at the workplace — especially those of such violent nature. Being vulnerable at the workplace is difficult, as the employee is taking a risk in sharing non-work related information and has a lack of personal control over the outcome.

If an employee decides to be vulnerable with you, it’s important to extend empathy. Take the time to thank them for being courageous enough to share their story. Lean into the potential discomfort. Avoid creating solutions for them — your role is to listen and validate their story.

Next, understand how the employee wants to proceed. Ask them directly how often they would like to check-in about how their experience is impacting them at work, agreeing on a cadence that suits their needs. During these check-ins, you can outline resources available to them. Instead of simply providing them with an EAP number, discuss how to access the resources and be ready to answer any questions they may have. If you have used any of the resources before, mention how it helped you to eliminate the stigma in accessing benefits.

Lastly, always remember to protect confidentiality and not share any details to the wider team or organization if the employee chooses not to share it themselves.

Offer flexible working arrangements.

Managing this type of trauma is tied to a variety of mental health challenges. If an employee is struggling to sleep or afraid to leave their home, for example, offering them additional flexibility around remote working, work schedules, and responsiveness to team communications can be enormously valuable. Adjusting start/end times at the office can alleviate the fear of traveling during peak commute times. If an employee works remotely, you can offer extra rest periods. You can partner with HR to offer additional PTO on top of their regular allowance for them to restore, attend therapy, or speak to members in their community who may have endured something similar.

When it comes to their workload and overall capacity, extend deadlines for non-critical projects. Communicate about any delays in work to relevant internal and external stakeholders, while protecting your employee’s confidentiality. That said, be careful in assuming less work or responsibilities is always the right course of action. Directly ask the employee about their preferences, as the daily routine and focus on projects can be a source of meaning, ties to social support with colleagues, or simply a welcomed distraction from their reality.

Continue to check-in over time and adjust these accommodations and arrangements as needed. Of course, these kinds of flexible working norms should hopefully have been proactively offered and discussed to your entire team. A truly sustainable work culture is planned for — not reactively constructed together.

Invest in tailored mental health resources.

If your organization doesn’t already have specialized mental health resources for historically marginalized communities, consider becoming a champion for adopting them. For example, your company might consider diversifying your network of mental health providers that are culturally responsive to different racial and ethnic groups. You can also invite speakers on mental health for a specific community, investing into DEI training by experts like Collective or The Equity Practice, or co-host an event between a mental health ERG and another ERG (e.g., LGBTQ+ or POC) to promote inclusivity.

Tailored approaches for mental health resources maximize both impact and engagement. They specialize to intersectional communities’ unique experiences, such as navigating social, structural, and systemic discrimination and inequities. These resources become more appealing and accessible, particularly when many communities navigate unique obstacles like second languages, a history of distrust in health care, and a general disparity when it comes to accessing mental health treatment. They also offer opportunities for individuals sharing similar experiences in which resources are helpful, how to navigate them, and how to embed them into their own lives in an effective and sustainable way.

. . .

Your organization cannot prevent violent crimes from occurring. And you cannot protect your employees at all hours. Yet, how your company responds to an employee in the aftermath of a traumatic event will leave a lasting, and positive, mark. As you grow and learn with each of these approaches, you will be one step closer to creating and fostering an environment that is inclusive of all experiences — even the difficult ones.

Read More

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *