The last year and a half has been a reckoning for workplaces; companies addressed the paradigm-shattering COVID-19 crisis, while also addressing issues of social injustice inside and outside the office.
Now that many companies are getting ready to welcome their employees back to the office, more employees are putting pressure on companies for better treatment. Or they’re simply walking away from their jobs in search of companies that share their values.
Human resources departments across the United States have been busy, to say the least!
So, is HR expected to manage payroll, benefits, recruiting… and address social injustice in current events, too?
The answer is yes. Here’s why.
Millennials expect to bring their whole selves to work.
Millennials, who are set to comprise up to 75 percent of the total U.S. workforce by 2025, fundamentally define diversity and inclusion differently than their older counterparts. They don’t believe in the well-intentioned but misguided “colorblindness” approach of yore.
Deloitte’s report, The Radical Transformation of Diversity and Inclusion: The Millennial Influence, “found that in defining diversity, millennials move well beyond the integration of demographic differences. They more commonly cite diversity as the blending of unique perspectives within a team, known as cognitive diversity.”
Millennials strongly believe that their unique perspectives cannot be separated from their success. In other words, they refuse to check their identities at the door because they believe that identities bring value to business outcomes.
And if current events threaten that sense of identity, these employees expect organizations to understand the cognitive load of social injustice.
“Businesses that don’t expand their notions of diversity and inclusion will increasingly lose their millennials and certainly won’t retain Generation Z … who are even less focused on traditional diversity than their older brothers and sisters and are even more engaged in socially collaborative platforms,” according to the Deloitte report.
Mental wellness impacts employee engagement.
When Millennials and Gen-Z bring their whole selves to work, this also includes their mental wellness. Morra Aarons-Mele said it succinctly in Harvard Business Review: “As we recognize neurological and emotional diversity in all of its forms, workplace cultures need to make room for the wide range of emotions we experience.”
Bonusly, an employee engagement software, also found this to be true in their survey of employees during the COVID-19 pandemic. Unsurprisingly, employees are much more stressed about work and at work than in years previous. But as it turns out, Bonusly also found that “highly engaged employees are 3.2 times more likely to be on a team that encourages open discussion of anxiety and stress at work than actively disengaged employees.”
So when incidents like the murder of George Floyd, the Atlanta spa shootings, or the January 6 Capitol riot occur, the best thing you can do for your employees is to acknowledge what’s going on. Let them know that you see and hear their concerns.
Be cognizant that current events impact your employees’ mental wellness. Also, recognize that you, as an HR professional, have the ability to thoughtfully address your team in a way that helps them feel valued and purposeful.
Crafting your employee experience and building purpose
We talk often about making sure employees feel valued as a crucial part of their employee experience. Recognize millennials and Gen Z for their diversity of experiences because that is what they need to feel appreciated. This requires a tailored approach from HR.
Consider this. HR is the department responsible for crafting and supporting the entire employee experience. So that responsibility extends to supporting employees’ well-being in times of social unrest.
Also, this is an opportunity to foster inclusion and a sense of purpose.
“Employees now want more from their employer than a paycheck. They want a sense of pride and fulfillment from their work, a purpose, and importantly a company whose values match their own,” said Jeanne Meister in her Forbes piece.
The subject of continued social injustice can be complex for companies to address. But it’s your responsibility as an HR professional to facilitate those conversations productively.
Do the work to understand your employees’ unique perspectives. Be aware of what can impact their well-being. This creates an inclusive and equitable environment for all workers.
You might have some difficult conversations, but it’ll pay off in time. After all, 83 percent of millennials are actively engaged when they believe the organization fosters an inclusive culture. And world events impact employees greatly. Addressing those issues is the compassionate, empathetic thing to do.