- Go beyond the initial communication. Employers should remain cognizant of the employee experience by deploying various strategies, as appropriate, depending on the workplace culture. This could include facilitating an open discussion with employees, or simply reminding them about existing mental health and wellness programs.
- Risk of decreased productivity. Unchecked stress and anxiety will distract employees, making them disengaged and unproductive. Thus, employers should remain proactive with resource communication and solutions in the coming months.
- Understand the overall impact. Just as those employees who are vehemently against the Supreme Court’s decision are feeling stress and mental fatigue, there are no doubt employees in favor of the decision who are similarly stressed and distracted by the ongoing dialogue around the issue.
- Facilitate a culture of transparency. Dr. Mickey Parsons, a workplace culture expert, contends shutting down communication, even on a topic as sensitive as Roe v. Wade, undermines efforts for a great employee experience.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling to overturn Roe v. Wade on June 24 thrust employers into action, many of which announced they would offer abortion-related travel benefits to employees who live in states where access to abortions is restricted.
Among the wide-ranging workplace implications from the Supreme Court’s ruling, which include health coverage and benefits considerations, a prominent concern for employers is ensuring their organization’s culture remains intact and employees feel supported amid this contentious issue.
Initial communication on the topic likely has or should have occurred, as remaining silent on the issue likely has significant workplace culture ramifications, especially if an organization has a large female employee population. To wit, a USA Today/Suffolk University poll found that 61% of respondents oppose overturning Roe v. Wade.
Marta Turba, CCP, CSCP, vice president of content management at WorldatWork, noted the value of employers providing some form of communication in response to the Roe v. Wade decision.
“This topic is important to workers everywhere, regardless of gender or perceived need of access to health services,” Turba said. “Organizations play a crucial role in helping employees understand the potential impact the Roe v. Wade ruling has on decisions related to their health, work and families. Direct and simple communication — of organizational values (inclusivity and equality), health plan access changes and any ancillary services related to mental health support — is key.”
Beyond that initial communication, employers should remain cognizant of the employee experience by deploying various strategies, as appropriate, depending on the workplace culture, said Dr. Mickey Parsons, founder and coaching psychologist at The Workplace Coach, LLC. Parsons said this might mean facilitating an open discussion with employees, or simply reminding them about existing mental health and wellness programs.
“Let employees know your door is open if they need to talk, then listen without judgement,” Parsons said. “Ask questions rather than making assumptions and respond with caring and kindness.”
Deb Smolensky, senior vice president of well-being and engagement at NFP, emphasized the importance of organizations and HR departments supporting overly stressed employees at all times, but especially so in unique circumstances such as Roe v. Wade.
“When an employee is stressed, it often feels like almost everything is outside of their control,” Smolensky said. “Providing them with actionable steps to address their anxiety and easy access to affordable high-quality resources can help put some control back into their hands.”
The Business Reason
Beyond the surface-level reason of demonstrating support and empathy for employees who might be experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety the past few weeks, there’s a clear business angle to maintaining a great employee experience amid contentious times.
A study of 2,000 employees by The Hartford found that more than 60% of people feel their overall health and wellness impacts their productivity at work, while 30% indicated they are less engaged with their work.
Mental health and stress certainly factor into an employee’s ability to remain motivated, which is why employers should remain proactive in the coming weeks and months as fallout from the Roe v. Wade decision continues at the state level.
“Whenever we feel a loss of control, it’s easy to lose our drive. In the workplace, this can lead to losses in employee engagement, productivity and creativity,” Parsons said. “In times of great stress, some disruption is inevitable. Leaders can minimize this by focusing on the positive like employee strengths and accomplishments. Reaffirm the organization’s mission and values and generally lean into positivity.”
This concept, of course, works at both ends of the spectrum with a particularly contentious issue such as abortion rights. Just as those employees who are vehemently against the Supreme Court’s decision are feeling stress and mental fatigue, there are no doubt employees in favor of the decision who are similarly stressed and distracted by the ongoing dialogue around the issue.
“Recognize and acknowledge that people feel passionately about this issue,” Parsons said. “It hits all the hot button topics we are told not to bring up with the in-laws at holiday dinners — religion/spirituality, politics and money.”
Taking stock of workforce demographics and getting a sense of how important the issue is to the employee base should inform potential strategic initiatives. In this vein, Meta made headlines when it told employees to not openly discuss the Supreme Court’s decision on its internal communication channels. Managers at Meta cited a company policy that put “strong guardrails around social, political and sensitive conversations” in the workplace, the New York Times reported.
Further, the Times obtained a May 12 memo from the tech company that said “discussing abortion openly at work has a heightened risk of creating a hostile work environment,” so it had taken “the position that we would not allow open discussion.”
While Meta’s stature as an employer is why it garners headlines for such a stance, it’s likely many other organizations have a similar stance — stated or unstated. Parsons said such an opaque position undermines efforts for a great employee experience and he would advise a different tact.
“Honestly, I’d rather see employers focus on creating a healthy and transparent workplace culture than on shutting down communications,” Parsons said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything good happen when a business limits employee communication.”
Parsons added that leaders should be cognizant of their own biases and make sure they are staying true to the organization’s core values and mission.
The best organizations, he noted, will find ways to maintain a positive workplace culture during this time, which should contribute to attracting and retaining employees.