How to support employees and colleagues during the current conflict

You are likely to have Jewish and/or Muslim colleagues, who will have friends and relatives in Israel and Palestine, and who will be experiencing strong emotions about the current conflict in the Middle East. How can you best support them at this difficult time?

The most important thing to remember – whether for this conflict or any others – is that it’s better to say something than to ignore the situation. Don’t worry about getting it wrong; showing people you care and that you’re there is what matters.

  • Acknowledge the war. You could perhaps mention it in your weekly newsletter or in your next meeting. You don’t have to offer any opinions – and you probably shouldn’t – but just say you’re aware that it’s happening and that it could be impacting on colleagues. Remind them that you’re there if anyone wants to talk.
  • Write specific colleagues who you know have friends or family in the region or who belong to the affected ethnic groups an email or a text message that says something like, “I just wanted you to know I’m thinking of you at what might be a challenging time for you. You don’t need to reply, but I’m here if you need anything.”
  • Similarly, you can say something along those lines in a face-to-face conversation, but be careful not to pressure them into talking about it, if they’re not up to it. Avoid any nosy questions, as it isn’t your business to know if someone has relatives in the region. Make no assumptions about political views.
  • If people come to you to say they are struggling, consider whether you can reduce their workload or give them a personal day or two off.
  • Ensure you know what your workplace’s mental health policies are like and if there are any helplines or healthcare professionals that your colleagues can contact if necessary.
  • Consider whether your workplace can make a charitable donation to an organisation that is actively working towards peace in the Middle East. It can help people to know that a small, proactive step is being taken.
  • Try not to get into political discussions, especially in the workplace. You don’t want to sow any discord among colleagues. Make work a friendly, safe space. Set up guidelines for conversation, if you feel that would be helpful.
  • Take care of yourself too. Even if you’re not Jewish or Muslim and even if you don’t fully understand the situation, it can still be painful to keep up with the news. It’s okay, and often necessary, to take a break from reading or watching the latest updates.
  • If you are asked to facilitate a conversation on the topic and you don’t feel able to, it’s okay to say no.
  • Remind everyone that a little kindness goes a long way; the world is hard, and your workplace doesn’t need to make it any harder.

Life goes on, even amidst such depressing conflicts. People need to keep working, and sometimes even find it helpful to keep their heads busy. At the same time, though, we’re humans with feelings, so show awareness of what’s going on, and how it might be affecting people.

 

The Team at PILAA

Every Statement Needs a Platform

Images ©PILAA

When Should Your Company Speak Up About a Social Issue? was an article published in 2020 in the Harvard Business Review by Paul A. Argenti, Professor of Corporate Communication at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business. He stated that over the last four years, organisations had been under pressure in some respects, “from their constituencies — employees, customers, investors, and the communities in which they operate — to take a public stand on high-profile political and social movements.” (1)

It is not every issue that a company or its executives should or can speak out on, indeed there are both social, moral and business-related reasons why it may be worth doing so, or similarly detrimental to the objectives of the business. If the controversies in the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar have taught us anything, it’s that making a statement is a complex and politically charged issue, far removed from the sport itself. We saw multiple teams from various countries making statements, in order to show solidarity and to speak out against; the mistreatment of migrants and workers, who had reportedly died whilst building the stadiums. Two, the poor humanitarian record in the country and lastly, the criminalization of LGBTQ communities and their rights.

Teams of players and individual figures made statements that ranged from small to large gestures, to those which were potentially risky, if not unsafe. The captains of seven of the European teams, including England’s Harry Kane, were to make a statement by wearing the ‘OneLove’ armband to promote diversity and inclusion. This was however disbanded, due to alleged threats from FIFA, which would have saw the captains penalised, if found to be wearing them. FIFA in fact made their own anti-discriminatory armband, which players could wear instead.

When silence speaks volumes

In their opening game against Iran, England’s men’s team took the customary ‘taking the knee’, which over the last couple of years, has been used as an anti-racist statement, following the death of George Floyd in May 2020. In this context, and of late, it has been used as a gesture to promote diversity and inclusion. You then had the German men’s team, that aptly covered their mouths, whilst taking a team photograph. This was done, said Head coach Hansi Flick, to convey the message that FIFA, the football world governing body was silencing them.

Finally, “when silence speaks volumes,” is probably the motto that could be used to describe, perhaps the riskiest statement, which came from the Iranian Men’s team, who refrained from singing their national anthem, in their opening game against Japan. In what was seen as an extraordinary gesture and a clear sign of dissent, Captain Ehsan Hajsafi, said that their non-participation was to mark the ongoing trouble in their country. This followed the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, the young woman who died in police custody in September 2022, for not wearing a hijab (2) in accordance with the Iranian government’s laws.

    “They should know that we are with them, we support them, and we sympathise with them.”                                                                                                     – Ehsan Hajsafi, Captain, Iran’s Men’s team

The reason why this statement was particularly extraordinaire, was because of where it took place. It was on Qatari soil, with Qatar being key allies to Iran. This was also a Senior player, who dared to speak out on political issues in the country, which suggested that he and the team sided with the protestors, whilst opposing the Iranian government. This was indeed a powerful, yet politically charged message.

It’s also worth noting that not everyone will agree with statements being made. That was certainly the case for countries in other parts of the world. For example, the same statement by Germany, was seen as ‘insulting’ and ‘provocative’ in parts of the Arab world, where the hashtag #Germany-Japan was trending in Arabic. (3) There were also ex footballers, and politicians like the UK Foreign Secretary, James Cleverly, and the FIFA president Gianni Infantino who called for players and fans visiting Qatar, to respect and follow the rules of the land.

Historically, there is a long tradition of sports and politics intersecting. One of the most iconic instances, would be the 1968 Olympics ‘Black Power salute’. This was by African American athletes, Tommie Smith who was the gold medallist of the 200 metres and John Carlos who won the bronze, where upon standing on the podium, both raised a black-gloved fist during the playing of the US national anthem. This was a statement that despite popular understanding, was not just about addressing black rights per say, but rather, about human rights (4). Cementing this point, all three athletes, including Peter Norman, the Australian who finished second behind Smith, wore human-rights badges on their jackets.

What is clear from these past and present cases, is that statements can take on different forms, shapes and sizes, yet they all need a platform to be seen, heard or even felt.

 

To read the full article, “Every Statement Needs a Platform: Guidance For When to Make a Statement”, you must be a PILAA Member.

 

Notes:

(1) Argenti, P (2020). When Should Your Company Speak Up About a Social Issue? Harvard Business Review [https://hbr.org/2020/10/when-should-your-company-speak-up-about-a-social-issue]

(2) It’s worth noting here that next month on the 1st of February, is World Hijab Day (WHD) in recognition of millions of Muslim women who choose to wear the hijab and live a life of modesty.

(3) 3, BBC: Iran’s Ehsan – BBC Sport, (November 2022) World Cup 2022: Iran’s Ehsan Hajsafi speaks out over conditions in his home country [Access https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/63696125]

(4) Lewis, R (2006). “Caught in Time: Black Power salute, Mexico, 1968”. The Sunday Times. London. [https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/caught-in-time-black-power-salute-mexico-1968-kpw6zfw78lh]