My Take: Reacting to the Recent Headlines

September 27th, 2019

How is your workplace faring after the horrific and heartbreaking headlines of the last few months? It’s up to HR to take the pulse of your organization and bolster staff morale.

Not too long ago, the New York Times ran an editorial titled The Hate Poisoning America in response to the horrific and heartbreaking attack at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, in which a gunman killed 11 people and wounded six more. This attack, the mailing of pipe bombs to Democratic leaders, the murders of two African Americans in Kentucky by a man who first tried to get into a black church, the everyday headlines of a white person calling the police on a black person for doing heinous, suspicious things like sitting in a park, illustrate the hatred — racial, religious, gender-based, and political — that seems to be growing in our country at an alarming rate.

What is going on, the Times asks, why is it happening, and what can we do about it?

It’s a powerful example of how much words matter both in public discourse and in private. Hatespeak seems to be trickling down, to borrow a phrase from another administration, as the president inflames his base at increasingly frenzied campaign rallies, during which he has even encouraged and praised violence against the press, labeling his critics traitors and enemies: name-calling meant to diminish anyone who crosses him. As the Times points out, the president of the United States is setting a low, coarse standard for how people should speak to and about one another. And now this.

Is it trickling into your workplace? We’re seeing more sexual harassment and gender bias headlines than ever before — a good thing if it signals a shift toward zero tolerance of that behavior, but it’s disheartening to think so much of it was going on.

Take Google. The Silicon Valley giant who has been in the news in recent months because it has fired 48 people in the past two years alone for sexual harassment. Forty-eight people. Really, Google? What was it about your culture and your hiring practices that allowed you to hire 48 people, including 13 senior managers, who turned out to be harassers both in the workplace and outside of it? HR mangled at least one case, telling a woman she’d have to leave her department because of a relationship she had with Google’s general counsel. That kind of press is brand-deflating. They seriously need to do some damage control, starting with cleaning up HR and hiring practices, and make sure that story gets headlines, too.

So, what can we take away from these horrific and disturbing headlines? What can we do about it? As the Times points out, “Maniacs have always existed in dark crevices,” and we can do little about that, but in our lives and our workplaces we can push for civility. Respect, decorum, agreeing to disagree, zero tolerance for bullies whether it’s a bad boss or a “mean girl” culture. Zero tolerance for harassment of any kind. And all of it needs to start with HR.

Take the pulse of your organization, especially after headlines like the ones we saw this past weekend. Are people walking around the office shell-shocked? Some morale-building might be in order. Or a support group where people can talk about how it’s all affecting them. Have you volunteered as an office anywhere lately? Now might be a good time to investigate doing something good, whether it’s serving meals at a shelter or swinging a hammer at a Habitat for Humanity project. And hey, a little brand-bolstering by putting photos from the event on your company website never hurt anyone.

It just seems to me that, somewhere along the line, people have forgotten what author Robert Fulghum reminded us of back in the eighties: We learned everything we need to know about how to live well in kindergarten. Share everything. Play fair. Don’t hit people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess. Don’t take things that aren’t yours. Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.

We all could use a good dose of that kind of chicken soup for the soul right now.

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