The headlines and images coming out of Israel and Gaza over the last few days have been horrific, and this is a conflict that stirs up passionate feelings on all sides.
In these turbulent and distressing times, employers need to be mindful of staff members who are from the impacted countries, or those who have relatives or friends there who may in danger.
Kate Palmer, HR Advice and Consultancy Director at Peninsula, details five steps that employers can take to ensure that staff who are affected by the evolving situation in both Gaza and Israel are supported.
Detail the support you have to offer
First things first, detail the support you have to offer. Given the distressing news and images coming out of the region, you should let your staff know what kind of support is available to them in work.
Direct your staff to your Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) if you have one. What’s good about an EAP service is that it provides expert third-party wellbeing support. It gives your employees access to free counselling and advice from trained professionals outside of your business. You do not have to be involved and it is entirely confidential.
There are different ways you can keep your staff in the know about the wellbeing support you have to offer. You could send out information via email, your staff portal, or attach flyers to noticeboards. You could also talk about support options during your team meetings.
2. Make temporary changes to your employee’s working arrangement.
If the conflict affects an employee’s friends or family who may be living abroad, you could consider offering them more flexible working arrangement. This may help them to keep in regular contact with loved ones.
A flexible arrangement might mean letting staff temporarily:
- change their start and finish times
- have more frequent and longer breaks
- change the responsibilities of their role.
Giving this kind of flexibility may offer some comfort to staff and help them feel less overwhelmed.
3. Manage political conversations
You may overhear employees talking about the news coverage during work time. And while you may not want to be the “thought police”, you should still moderate conversations that have a political nature.
This does not mean you have to ban conversations, but it is good to set boundaries.
Your staff should be able to speak openly – but they need to understand that there are limits. That is why establishing clear rules upfront can help to prevent employees from crossing the line and causing offence to others.
For example, you may want to:
- limit political conversations during work hours
- ban political literature, badges, or jokes
- request that staff remain civil and respectful when discussing politics
- encourage employees to be open-minded
- establish your zero-tolerance for bullying, harassment, or hate speech
And if a political conversation starts to become uncivil or distracting, it is best to try to de-escalate rather than join in. One way to do this is to simply change the subject back to a work-related topic. You do not have to make it a big thing. You could just comment that it is time to move on.
Having a policy will help to make sure that your employees are all clear about the ground rules. This, and making sure your equality and diversity policies are all up to date, can help keep chats in check and prevent the risk of potential discrimination claims.
4. Regularly check-in
For employees who might be feeling emotionally or mentally stressed, it is important to check in with them regularly.
Managers should organise regular check-ins with staff to let them know that support is there if they need it. Having regular one-to-one catchups gives opportunities for staff to open up about any issues and discuss forms of support they might need.
And creating these open discussions about wellbeing at work will help you build a better culture overall.
5. Create a culture of support
A healthy workplace culture reinforces the fact that staff safety and wellbeing is the priority.
By signposting your wellbeing services and leading by example, you can help to empower your staff to speak out about issues they might be having.
And when your staff feel more comfortable to open up, this helps to build trust and strengthen working relationships. So, you will be more likely to see higher levels of morale and retention in the long run.
In the face of serious world issues, taking a proactive approach serves as an important reminder to staff that their wellbeing matters.
Kate Palmer is the HR Advice and Consultancy Director at Peninsula.
Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at the University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.