How to Design a Powerhouse Team

Many Americans get their first job working at a fast-food chain. You may have been one of them. If so, you probably remember your first day. Maybe you started at a register. Or perhaps you began in the kitchen. Either way, you had a lot to learn in a short amount of time. Everyone was counting on you to help keep the lines moving. Patience isn’t a virtue in this business, after all.

Fast-food restaurants make for good first jobs because the tasks are fairly easy to learn and don’t require any specialized knowledge going in. But they’re also good first jobs for another reason. When you get a job in fast food, chances are you’re joining a well-designed and effective team that works smoothly under pressure. Fast food lines might not always be as fast as we’d like, but they’re reliably quick, and it’s the team design that makes it so.

It’s extra impressive what fast-food teams regularly accomplish given that the team can only move as fast as the slowest person on it, turnover tends to be high, and a lot of the crew has little other job experience. And yet these teams move with a purpose. You may have read that when a COVID-19 vaccination clinic needed to get its backed-up drive-thru moving, it brought in a Chick-fil-A manager. 

If you’re creating a new team or restructuring one you already have, you could do worse than look at fast-food teams for inspiration. You probably won’t be mimicking the particular functions, roles, or processes of those teams, but there’s nevertheless a lot to learn from how these teams are designed and how they operate.

What’s their secret? These teams succeed because they’re clear about the value they provide and because their functions, roles, and processes are all designed to provide that value. Let’s look more closely at their design and what it can teach us.

Clarifying Value

Like all restaurants, fast-food chains serve food, but the food isn’t the value they provide. The value is the speed with which you get your food. It’s the convenience of a quick meal. It’s also the uniformity of the experience. Whether you purchase a Whopper and fries at a Burger King in Eugene, Oregon or in Ankeny, Iowa, you expect the meal to look and taste the same, and you expect to get it fast. In most instances, you do.

Businesses like this are set up to deliver a fast and uniform customer experience. Get in line, get your food, and go about your day. No delays. No surprises. This is what you expect when buying fast food, and every decision made at a fast-food joint is designed to satisfy this expectation. The measure of success for every function, process, and performance is whether this value is delivered.

Before you determine or reconsider team functions, processes, and roles, clarify the value your team is meant to deliver. That value, remember, isn’t a product or a service or an internal “deliverable.” It’s the need or want satisfied by whatever your team provides. It’s the why behind what your team does.

If you’re not sure what value your team is meant to have, ask yourself what success looks like. What are the one or two or three big signs that your team is or would be doing a good job? What makes relevant parties happy when your team has done its job well? Those should clue you in to your team’s specific value.

Considering Functions

The functions of a team are those things that need to happen for the value to be delivered. When a customer orders a hamburger at McDonald’s, they expect to get it quickly and for it to taste like every other McDonald’s hamburger they’ve eaten. A series of tasks makes that happen. The order is taken and communicated to the kitchen. A bun is prepared. Condiments are added to it. A beef patty is cooked and placed on the bun. The finished burger is wrapped, handed off, and bagged. Money is taken. Food is delivered.

When you’re considering what functions your team performs or will perform, don’t think about roles just yet. Think first about what value your team is expected to deliver and what functions make that happen. Write down all of the work that gets done or needs to get done. Account for every task.

Next, ask yourself how each function contributes to the value that your team provides. Consider also whether that work actually needs to happen. Fast-food restaurants, for example, found that indoor lines move faster when customers fill and refill their own drinks. The task of filling drinks, when done by employees, slows things down. Removing this task from the team sped things up, i.e., increased the value they provided.

Assigning Roles

Don’t confuse functions and roles. If you pop into a McDonald’s during a lunch rush, you’ll likely see five or so people in the kitchen each assigned to a separate task . But arrive during an afternoon lull, and you may just see one or two people doing all this work. In places like McDonald’s, managers typically determine roles with each shift. Today an employee may be scooping French fries into containers. The next day, they may be taking drive-thru orders. This flexibility enables employees to learn all of the team functions over time, builds speed and familiarity with each one, and it keeps the work from quickly becoming monotonous. Because everyone can do everything, sudden reassignments, say when an employee calls in sick last minute, are easier to accommodate. Speed doesn’t suffer (too much).

Day-to-day role assignments may not work for your businesses, but it’s still a good idea to keep functions and roles separate in your mind and in your future team planning. Conflating the two risks locking people into roles that don’t develop (or enable them to develop). Aligning roles with functions too rigidly can also isolate your people, limiting the number of people with whom they interact and the places where they can add value. But dividing up functions more liberally can bring more variety to each role and expand the areas where people in those roles are able to collaborate with others on their team.

Implementing Processes

The process of getting a burger made and in the hands of a customer is fairly simple and straightforward, but the demand for speed and the volume of orders both make it easy for mistakes to happen. During a rush, the kitchen crew has a continual stream of orders on the table, each with a different destination.

To manage the flow of ordered items and keep multiple lines of people moving, fast-food teams must communicate quickly and clearly. When an assembled and wrapped burger moves from the kitchen to the frontline crew, there can’t be any question about which bag or tray it should go to. Any uncertainty wastes time and decreases value.

Clear communication is valuable everywhere, of course, but speed may not be the value your processes should be designed around. People tend to like it, for example, when their doctor takes extra time to listen to them and understand their needs. Medical offices that get patients in and out as fast as possible aren’t delivering the value those patients typically want. They soon get a bad reputation. That reputation fairs even worse if doctors take ample time with patients, but the staff scheduling appointments have been told to schedule as many appointments as possible.

When you’re figuring out how your team should communicate and collaborate, let the value your team provides be your guide, and make sure every member of your team is guided by the same value.

Deciding Who Decides

Fast-food chain managers decide who to hire and fire, what to pay, and whom to schedule, but they have no say in the decisions about the products they make and sell. They don’t decide what temperatures to cook the meat or how much mustard or ketchup to use or how large the fry containers should be. Those decisions are made outside the restaurant. This makes perfect sense. Customers expect uniformity, so you don’t want the kitchen staff experimenting with the secret sauce or patty sizes or seasonings that go in a taco. Not even a franchise owner has the liberty to make those decisions.

But if uniformity isn’t what interested parties expect from your team, you probably don’t need as many decisions dictated from on high. The members of a team tasked with coding a video game with never-before-seen features would probably do well having the freedom to experiment, take risks, fail, and try again.

Deciding who makes decisions and in what circumstances can be daunting for managers. A lot can go wrong. Some people enjoy having autonomy and authority over their work, and they’d choose other employment if they had no say over their work and how it gets done. Others don’t want the stress of making decisions that could help or harm the company. More people making decisions invites more bad decisions and workplace drama, but fewer decision-makers can restrict a team’s ability to be creative and innovative.

Whatever you decide about your team’s decision-making authority, make sure it aligns with and supports the value your team delivers, especially long term. Next, explain to your team how decision-making on the team works. No one should be uncertain about who makes decisions and when. Finally, hold people accountable to their decisions. Reward decisions that add value, and address issues with decisions that detract from it. That also means holding yourself accountable for how decision-making is done in your organization.

Developing the Team

You may have noticed that we haven’t covered the essential step of hiring and retaining the right people for the roles you need. That was deliberate. The steps above—clarifying value, considering functions, assigning roles, implementing processes, and deciding who decides—form the design of your team. Think of this design as the team architecture that your team members operate in, whoever they may be.

That said, don’t be afraid to allow your particular employees to help shape the overarching team design. For a team to be effective, it must be a source of value to the people on it. People don’t stay engaged with a team or remain on it when that team doesn’t meet their own wants and needs. Team input can make a good team design even better.

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Biden’s Announcement About Mandatory Vaccinations for Private Employers

If you have fewer than 100 employees, no federal contracts, and no healthcare workers, these new federal requirements do NOT apply to you.

We are actively monitoring for the details of President Biden’s COVID action plan. The aspects of this new plan that affect HR and how you run your business will come from DOL rules called Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS), written by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA); executive orders (EOs) from the President; and (for healthcare workers) regulations from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). When relevant information becomes available, we will update you via an eAlert and provide information on the HR Support Center. In the meantime, here is what we know:

Employers with 100 or More Employees

Employers that have 100 or more employees will be required to:

  1. Mandate their employees get vaccinated against COVID or submit to weekly testing; and
  2. Provide employees with paid time off to get vaccinated and recover if they experience side effects from the vaccine.

It’s possible that the weekly testing option will be reserved only for those who request testing as an accommodation to mandatory vaccination because of a sincerely held religious belief, disability, or pregnancy. We expect the new ETS to address this.

We don’t yet know if there will be a way for employers to get reimbursed for costs associated with compliance.

Federal Contractors

Federal contractors will be required to mandate vaccination among their employees.

Healthcare Workers

Workers in most healthcare settings will be required to be vaccinated.

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National Disability Employment Awareness Month

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). Declared in 1988 by the United States Congress (though its roots go back to 1945 when Congress urged employment for WWII service members with disabilities), NDEAM is a good occasion for us to celebrate the contributions of people with disabilities to workplaces and the economy. We also recommend taking this time to better understand employer obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act and consider how to be more inclusive and accommodating than what the law strictly requires. 

The DOL’s Office of Disability Employment Policy is commemorating NDEAM this year with the theme “America’s Recovery: Powered by Inclusion.” This theme “reflects the importance of ensuring that people with disabilities have full access to employment and community involvement during the national recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

We’re glad to see this.

People with disabilities (1 in 4 adults in the United States) are at greater risk of poor outcomes from COVID-19. At the start of the pandemic, workers with disabilities lost their jobs at a higher rate than the general population. As the pandemic continued, those with intellectual disabilities were six times more likely to die from the virus than other members of the population. Helping people with disabilities stay safe and succeed as the pandemic continues will be essential to a full recovery, and employers can play a huge role in that. 

Supporting employees with disabilities may also be vital to the success of individual employers—now and after the recovery. According to a CNBC poll, nearly 80% of workers say that they want to work for a company that values diversity, equity, and inclusion. With roughly half of small businesses struggling to fill roles, competition for talent is fierce. Employers who don’t appear to believe that it’s important to include and support employees with disabilities put themselves at a huge disadvantage. 

What can you do to help?

First, make doubly sure you understand your compliance obligations related to applicants and employees with disabilities. We have lots of resources for you on the HR Support Center. If you search disability in the search bar, you’ll find articles, forms, guides, law summaries, letters, policies, Q&As, videos, and more.

Second, as the pandemic continues, do what you can to accommodate employees with disabilities who may be at greater risk of severe illness or death. Accommodations to consider may include remote work for those who can do their jobs from home and extra PPE (e.g., N95 masks, face shields, gloves) for those who need or want to work onsite. Other possible accommodations are different shifts, job changes to reduce physical proximity or public interaction, extra breaks (for handwashing or mental health), permission to keep a minifridge or other personal storage device at one’s workstation, and extra cleaning supplies. All in all, when an employee requests an accommodation, do what you can to try to make it work. Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t.

Third, stress to everyone that respect and empathy are nonnegotiable values. Employees who need extra support so they can do their jobs well aren’t going to ask for it if they believe their concerns will be dismissed or that they’ll be ridiculed or looked down on by coworkers. If they don’t feel like they can ask for an accommodation, they’re more likely to look for a job elsewhere. And if they stay, it’s unlikely that they will be as productive or successful if they feel unsafe and stressed out. That’s a lose-lose. But it’s a win-win when employees feel safe asking for accommodations and those accommodations enable them to succeed.

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Employees Want More – Can You Offer It

It’s still too early to tell how great the “Great Resignation” will be—or if it even lives up to that description. True, lots of employees are considering changing jobs, but there’s a world of difference between thinking about quitting and actively hunting for a new opportunity. There’s no doubt, though, that employees want more out of their work-life, and they’re willing to fight for it or leave if they don’t get it. 

What more do these unsatisfied employees want? That depends. The best way to learn what your employees want is to ask them. We can’t stress this enough. Check-ins with managers are an ideal time if both managers and their direct reports are comfortable having such conversations. Anonymous surveys are another option. If nothing else, conduct exit interviews.

But while individual desires vary, they tend to fall into a few general themes: greater freedom and flexibility, a bigger say in the workplace, increased safety and security, and better compensation. Employers that can satisfy these desires have an advantage in today’s job market. Let’s look at each in turn.

Greater Freedom and Flexibility

Most employees who have experienced the benefits of working from home want remote work to remain an option, at least part of the time. Some appreciate being able to pick up kids from school, take a midday exercise break, or use the bathroom without anyone tracking how much time they’re spending away from their workstations. Others feel relieved to have escaped a workplace marked by harassment or microaggressions. Still, others enjoy using their commute time for something personally rewarding or for getting work done. 

But remote work isn’t the only way that employees desire greater freedom and flexibility. They also want the liberty to decide their own work schedule or at least receive their schedule in advance, the option to take time off when they need it and without worrying about a smaller paycheck and ample opportunities to advance their career.

Workers who feel constrained or stalled at work are less likely to stick around. And if they do stay, they’re likely to feel frustrated, perhaps even resentful. Neither attitude inclines one to do their best work.

Tip: Talk with your employees to determine what decisions about their work and their development they can make for themselves.

A Bigger Say in the Workplace

When employees at Google announced the creation of a minority union early this year, a lot of people were taken by surprise. After all, tech employees aren’t exactly known for unionizing, and Google is known for being a great place to work. Some of the union’s goals are what you’d expect—fairer wages and more protection from harassment and retaliation. But the union also seeks to influence how the company conducts business—and with whom. Its members want a say in how their labor is used. “As a tech employee, it’s a reasonable ask to ensure that this labor is being used for something positive that makes the world a better place,” one employee told NPR.  

Employees at other tech companies feel similar. Two employees at Amazon resigned in protest recently after hundreds of employees unsuccessfully petitioned the company to stop selling a book that they said framed transgender identity as a mental illness. 

What these employees want is cultural fit. They want their work and their workplace to align with their beliefs and values. They’re willing to leave if the culture doesn’t suit them, but they also believe the culture isn’t only the employer’s to define. As they see it, the culture belongs to them, too. And some of them will organize protests, perform walkouts, and engage in other forms of concerted activity in an effort to influence the culture.

Tip: Consider whose values take priority in your workplace. Does culture come from the top down or is it a collaborative effort? If employees don’t feel comfortable expressing their opinions about what the culture is and what it should be, what could you do to reassure them and encourage fruitful discussions?

Increased Safety and Security

The COVID pandemic has shined a painfully bright light on workplace health and safety practices—or lack thereof. COVID-related risks and violations abound.  According to a study from the University of California, San Francisco, five professions saw an increase in mortality rate higher than 50 percent: agricultural workers, bakers, construction laborers, line cooks, and line workers in warehouses were most at risk. 

With health and safety on most people’s minds, there’s a big demand for work that’s physically and mentally healthy. Most employees don’t want a job that puts them in danger of getting a serious illness or causes them psychological harm. Workers want to feel safe, and they’re leaving jobs where they don’t. 

Tip: Following all recommended safety precautions is a lot to keep track of, but it’s also just the bare minimum. Make sure your employees also feel safe—physically and psychologically. Listen to any concerns they have and do what you can to address them.

Better Compensation

The desire for higher pay, additional benefits, on-the-job training, and financial relief is by no means new. But right now, in certain industries, employees have the leverage to demand better compensation. In response, employers in these industries are advertising signing bonuses, $15 an hour minimum pay, and other attractive forms of compensation.

Tip: Develop a compensation strategy that’s responsive to fluctuating costs of labor.

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Three Questions About COVID Vaccinations

Can we ask for proof of vaccination? Isn’t this a HIPAA violation or an illegal inquiry under the ADA or somehow confidential information?

Employers can ask for proof of vaccination unless there is a state or local law or order to the contrary.*

When an employer is requesting or reviewing medical information in its capacity as an employer, as it would be when asking about an employee’s vaccination status, it is considered to be an employment record. In such cases, HIPAA would not apply to the employer. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) will govern the collection and storage of this information.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which enforces the ADA, has stated that asking about vaccination is not a disability-related inquiry, though it could turn into one if you ask follow-up questions about why the employee is not vaccinated. Asking a yes or no question, or requesting to see the employee’s vaccination card, does not violate any federal laws or require proof that the inquiry is job-related.
 
Finally, just because employees think that something is or should be private or confidential doesn’t mean they can’t be required to share it with their employer. Social Security numbers, birth dates, and home addresses are all pieces of information an employee may not want to advertise, but sharing is necessary and required for work. Vaccination status is similar. However, all of this information, once gathered, should not be shared by the employer with third parties, except on a need-to-know basis.

*It appears that some governors may attempt to prevent certain entities from requiring “immunity passports” (e.g., proof of vaccination) through an executive order (EO), though as of July 31, none of the EOs already issued appear to apply to private businesses and their employees. Also note that if there is a law in place that prevents treating vaccinated and unvaccinated employees differently (like in Montana), you may be able to ask, but not take any action based on the response.

Should we keep a record of who is vaccinated or make copies of vaccination cards? If we do, how long should we keep that information?

If you’re asking about vaccination status, you’ll want to keep some kind of record (so you don’t have to ask multiple times), but how you do this is up to you, unless state or local law has imposed specific recordkeeping requirements. You may want to keep something simple like a spreadsheet with the employee’s name and a simple “yes” or “no” in the vaccination column. If you’d prefer to make a copy of their vaccination card, that should be kept with other employee medical information, separate from their personnel file. Per OSHA, these records should be kept for 30 years.

If we keep a record of who is vaccinated, can we share it with managers who will be required to enforce policies based on that information, such as masking and social distancing?

Yes. We recommend not sharing this information any more widely than necessary. While anonymized information is okay to share (e.g., “80% of our employees are vaccinated”), each employee’s vaccination status should be treated as confidential, even if the fact that they are wearing a mask to work seems to reveal their status publicly. Obviously, managers will need this information if they are expected to enforce vaccination-dependent policies, and employers should train them on how they should be enforcing the policies and how and when to escalate issues to HR or a higher level of management.

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Responding to Anonymous Complaints: Dos and Don’ts

If you receive an anonymous complaint, it is important to remain calm and review the complaint objectively regardless of how egregious the accusations may seem. Although the complaint was received anonymously, the company still has an obligation to take action, if necessary, to ensure that employees are provided a workplace that is safe and free from harassing or discriminatory conduct.

We recommend investigating the complaint to the extent possible given the information received. Here are dos and don’ts to keep in mind:

Do:

  • Determine if an investigation is warranted or possible. Some complaints will not require an investigation, and some may not even require follow up (e.g., personality conflicts do not require investigation and complaints about the brand of sparkling water stocked in the kitchen do not require any follow up).
  • Begin your investigation as soon as possible and plan to conclude it within a timeframe that is reasonable based on the complaint. Physical harassment and serious safety complaints, for instance, should be addressed immediately and resolved within days. Other harassment investigations should be concluded within two weeks.
  • Take a measured approach, keeping in mind your intent is first to confirm whether the complaint is valid and take appropriate action if you determine that it is.
  • Focus on the (alleged) facts presented and do the best you can with what you’ve been given. Anonymous reports are definitely harder to follow up on, but the option of anonymity will hopefully result in more situations being brought to your attention before they turn into bigger issues.
  • Interview those you know are involved. If only a certain group, location, or department is named, start by speaking to other employees who may have experienced the same behavior. For instance, if someone registers a complaint that the Director of Engineering made sexist remarks, first interview the director’s subordinates; if you call the director in first, they will likely deny the accusation and may treat their subordinates worse, making others afraid to tell the truth about the behavior when interviewed later.

Don’t:

  • Panic. All you can do is your best!
  • Jump to conclusions or rush to judgment.
  • Dismiss complaints just because the anonymity of the reporter makes it more difficult to investigate.
  • Assume the complaint is valid or invalid before doing preliminary research.
  • Retaliate against the suspected complainant or witnesses.
  • Discuss the matter with anyone who is not relevant to the investigation. Share the complaint only with those who need to know about it. Sharing the contents of an anonymous complaint with those who don’t need to know about it will only discourage reporting in the future.

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Six Tips for Managing Stress in the Workplace

We’re all supposed to feel stress from time to time. It’s the way the body responds to demands and dangers. A stressful event triggers the release of hormones. These hormones, according to Psychology Today, “increase heartbeat and the circulation of blood to support quick action, mobilize fat and sugar for immediate energy, focus attention to track the danger, prepare muscles for movement, and more.” This fight-or-flight response helps us overcome these challenges. It can save our life before we realize we’re in danger.

We are not, however, supposed to feel stress all or most of the time. Stress, particularly the regular or chronic variety, can lead to illness and other mental and physical health problems. As Sarah Noll Wilson notes, stress also makes it more difficult for us to access higher level brain functions like logic, reasoning, problem solving, listening, and empathy—all of which are useful for managing stress!

It’s no secret, unfortunately, that many of us live overly stressful lives, more so now that we’re in the midst of a pandemic. Some days we may feel overwhelmed by stressful situations and overloaded with stress hormones, and it’s no mere coincidence that on these days we seem less able to think clearly and work collaboratively. We’re literally chemically hindered from doing so.

Why is the workplace so stressful?

The workplace is a high-risk environment. First, there’s the risk of failure and its consequences, such as a missed deadline that may jeopardize a deal. Second, there’s the risk of bad outcomes from the employment relationship, such as when an employee reveals trade secrets to a competitor or a manager retaliates against an employee for reporting harassment. Related to this second risk is a third one: the liability brought about by all of the laws that govern the employment relationship. As we know, compliance obligations are a big stressor for employers.

In addition to these stressors are less-noticed ones. Feelings of loneliness and isolation can add to a person’s stress at work, as can mental conditions like depression, anxiety, and OCD. Employees without a strong support network or those experiencing mental illness may have an even more difficult time managing common workplace stressors. Worse, their additional struggles are often invisible to managers and peers.

Similarly, managers and peers are often unaware that some employees are experiencing the stress of microaggressions (explained below) and subtle forms of oppression and discrimination. In an interview with Forbes, Minda Harts explains what it’s like to be the only or one of only a few women of color in the room: “After a while, you just start to settle into the microaggressions, you start to settle into the isolation, and you start to question everything you’re doing, and your expertise.”

And now, added to the mix, is the COVID-19 pandemic, which, to quote Sarah Noll Wilson, means “living with the constant hum of a threat” and with fewer moments “where our brain can properly rest while we still go about our day.” That’s a big issue. Chris Weller at the NeuroLeadership Institute writes, “Just as a sponge can only soak up so much water, and a computer can only process so much information, our brains have finite holding power. After a certain point, we all need to stop working, rest, and recharge.”

What employers can do to make the workplace less stressful

Not every stressor in the workplace can be eliminated, but some can. In any case, stress can be managed. It doesn’t have to have the last word. Here are some practices that can help make the workplace less stressful:

  • Don’t assume the worst. Because the workplace is home to so much stress, it’s easy to grow cynical about the employment relationship. It’s true that there are bad employees, horrible bosses, and toxic cultures. Workplace problems can be entrenched and systematic. Nonetheless, the employment relationship isn’t uniquely bad among human relationships, and it’s a mistake and counterproductive to think it is. There are star employees, terrific bosses, and great places to work—and these aren’t rare. Assuming the worst about employers or employees, or seeing them primarily as threats or liabilities, is like assuming all your friends are going to betray you. It’s an attitude that creates more drama, adds more stress, and ruins otherwise functional relationships. So, as Cy Wakeman says in her book No Ego, “stop believing everything you think.” Instead, advises Wakeman, ask yourself what you know for sure and base your thinking and your decisions on what is, in fact, real. Tell your employees to do the same.
  • Always act in good faith. There are times when the right thing to do is going to cause someone stress. For employers, it might be discipline for a policy violation, a poor performance review because of unmet expectations, or a layoff due to a shortage of work. For employees, it might be providing candid feedback to a peer, asking a coworker to cover a shift, or setting a hard deadline for a project. At some point, you’re going to cause someone stress, and that’s likely okay. The important thing is not to try to spare people necessary stress, but to approach decisions that will cause someone this stress in good faith. Good faith shows that you care about their success and wellbeing. It also helps put others in a better frame of mind to accept the demands or pressures placed upon them.
  • Address sexism, racism, and other forms of inequality. These are stressors that every employer should be acknowledging and working to eliminate. Unlike other stressors, they are not inevitable.
    Microaggressions, in particular, deserve to be called out. Writing in Harvard Business Review, Ella F. Washington, Alison Hall Birch, and Laura Morgan Roberts explain that microaggressions are “verbal, behavioral, and environmental indignities that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults to the target person or group. For Black people, they are ubiquitous across daily work and life.” These indignities are not “small,” as the term micro might seem to imply, but rather frequent and casual.
    The authors cite research suggesting that “subtle forms of interpersonal discrimination like microaggressions are at least as harmful as more-overt expressions of discrimination.” For one thing, continual hostility and discrimination rob people of the time and space they need to rest and recharge.
    In these situations, employers have a responsibility not only to help employees manage their stress, but also, and more importantly, to do everything they can to put a stop to the hostility and discrimination that’s causing the stress. Sexism and racism, subtle or overt, must not be tolerated.
  • Promote support networks. We’re not meant to struggle with stress alone. We need others, and they need us. You can facilitate friendships and support systems among employees by setting up virtual chat programs and video conferencing apps (and in-person spaces for fun when the pandemic is over). Reassure employees that it’s fine for them to take a little time during the workday to reach out to others about non-work matters and participate in virtual games and other fun group activities. Managers can set the tone by participating in these chats and activities and encouraging employees to join in.
  • Provide mental health benefits, if possible. In some cases, employees who want to get the mental health care they need can’t afford the costs. Losing pay from a missed work shift might be too great a hardship, and effective treatments might be financially out of reach. These financial hindrances can exacerbate stress. In other cases, employees can afford the time off and the treatments, but they can’t make regular appointments work with their schedules. If you can offer paid time off, health insurance benefits, or flexible schedules, these can help employees get the care they need.
    An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) may be another great option for employees feeling overwhelmed by stress. It gives employees access to expert, confidential assistance for substance abuse issues, relationship troubles, financial problems, mental health conditions, and other major stressors.
  • Give people permission and time to rest and recharge. When a workplace situation causes someone to have a fight-or-flight response, it may be best for them to remove themselves from the situation before they say or do something they later regret or that causes more harm. Make sure employees know that they can remove themselves from an overly stressful situation. They shouldn’t have the added stress of worrying that they’ll be punished for doing what they need to do to de-escalate the situation or get away from it so they can calm themselves and refocus.

Aside from allowing these in-the-moment decisions to pause and step away, consider setting time aside during the week or month for employees to participate in activities like yoga, meditation, and mindfulness. There are known techniques, such as deep breathing, for eliciting a relaxation response when someone is experiencing stress. Educate yourself and your employees on these healthy practices for managing stress.

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