Don't Be Silent: Expert Tips to Defuse Workplace Tensions

During the crazy times that society is facing, workplaces are beginning to see tensions due to it. Read this blog post for tips on diffusing tension in the workplace.

In these days of high emotion and polarization, it's hard to know how or even whether to address the feelings of anger, despair or frustration that may be percolating among employees at the workplace. But it would be a mistake for company leaders and managers to stay silent, said Eric Ellis, a longtime consultant on diversity and inclusion.

Today's crises have frayed nerves and opened wounds.

"None of us is unaffected by this," said Ellis, president and chief executive officer of Integrity Development Corporation in Cincinnati and a speaker at the 2020 SHRM Talent conference. He advised employers to have a plan for managers to de-escalate conflict and build common ground. "If we don't prepare our people to have this conversation, we're leaving ourselves open to micro-explosions."

What is called for is empathetic support, with conversations guided by the "core values that companies adopt and post but are at times challenged to live," he said.
"A neutral leadership style is not very helpful during a crisis. Organizational leaders must assess their personal beliefs and feelings first and then expand beyond them. The most effective leaders find ways to support employees who have perspectives that differ from their own."

Ellis, who has consulted with businesses, advocacy groups and law enforcement organizations across the country, said HR professionals can play a crucial role in maintaining a respectful workplace.
"The kind of people-centered sensitivity needed at this time, in many ways, is baked into their training and professional DNA," he said.

To help provide a framework for opening and guiding productive conversations, Ellis offered the following tips:

Start with yourself. A good place to begin is by acknowledging your personal biases as well as what's taking place in our country and demonstrating empathy for those experiencing hurt, anger, sadness or disappointment.

Recognize different perspectives. People come to the workplace with a variety of perspectives on the ongoing unrest. Ellis suggested that these perspectives fall into four broad categories:

Justice requires action. Strong supporters of the protesters. They may have personal experience with injustice or are closely affiliated with people who directly experienced unfair and/or heavy-handed policing.

Nonviolent protest supporters. General supporter of protest but uncomfortable with rioting, looting and violence.

Don't protest; a few bad apples. People who believe George Floyd's death was wrong but not worthy of this response. They generally believe that every organization has a few people who abuse power or are negligent.

Loyal to the system. People who generally side with law enforcement and believe these protests demonstrate the need for more control, law and order.

Ellis recommends that leaders lean their support closer to the perspectives of those employees in the first or second categories, to align with the tradition of supporting peaceful protests for civil rights in this country, and also to acknowledge the well-documented history and ongoing examples of racial injustice, which is reflected in intense acts of solidarity with protestors from around the world. However, he added, leaders should remember the importance of being inclusive and protecting the rights of employees with beliefs closer to the third or fourth categories. No one should feel disrespected, blamed or harmed in the workplace due to their personal perspective, he said.

Teach empathetic listening and de-escalation skills to your entire workforce. People need these critical skills to communicate effectively with their co-workers, even when they disagree.

Empathetic listening requires people to avoid engaging in point-counterpoint debates. They need to display open body language. The listener begins by paraphrasing comments shared with him or her, beginning with a tentative opening such as "Let me see if I'm understanding what you're saying." This is followed by a summary of both the content of the message shared and the feelings expressed. The final step is to check for accuracy, to ensure that the listener accurately restated the message shared by the co-worker. Employees can engage in empathetic listening even when they disagree with the perspective shared by their co-worker.

Arrange for company-sponsored listening sessions. It can be helpful to provide employees with a safe forum to express their feelings and concerns with their co-workers. It may be necessary to engage external experts experienced at successfully facilitating these types of conversations. The ultimate objective is to provide solutions that improve employees' ability to effectively manage their feelings and anxiety in order to reduce the impact on their emotional health and workplace effectiveness.

Provide counseling support. Make sure to have counseling resources available for employees who may need assistance with their mental and emotional well-being as a result of stress and anxiety related to these massive national and global issues.

Strengthen inclusion efforts, don't pause them. Strengthen current commitment and engagement efforts with inclusion strategies versus pausing them. All companies should take a hard look at their own culture to ensure that they are strategically working to create workplaces that are fair and inclusive of diverse employees in general and racially diverse employees specifically. If an organization conducts a legitimate assessment, it will include the identification of several areas where bias has limited the opportunities available for employees of different racial backgrounds and other diverse characteristics and traits.

SOURCE: Cleeland, N. (07 June 2020) "Don't Be Silent: Expert Tips to Defuse Workplace Tensions" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from

How to Monitor Your Employees — While Respecting Their Privacy

A recent survey found that 55 percent of millennials that had partaken in the survey plan to leave employers that prioritize profits over people. Read this blog post to learn more.

Even before Covid-19 sent an unprecedented number of people to work from home, employers were ramping up their efforts to monitor employee productivity. A 2018 Gartner report revealed that of 239 large corporations, 50% were monitoring the content of employee emails and social media accounts, along with who they met with and how they utilized their workspaces. A year later an Accenture survey of C-suite executives reported that 62% of their organizations were leveraging new tools to collect data on their employees.

These statistics were gathered before the coronavirus pandemic, which has made working from home a necessity for thousands of companies. With that transition having happened so rapidly, employers are left wondering how much work is actually going on. The fear of productivity losses, mingling with the horror of massively declining revenues, has encouraged many leaders to ramp up their employee monitoring efforts.

There is no shortage of digital tools for employee monitoring — or, as privacy advocates put it, “corporate surveillance.” Multiple services enable stealth monitoring, live video feeds, keyboard tracking, optical character recognition, keystroke recording, or location tracking. One such company, Hubstaff, implements random screen capture that can be customized for each person and set to report “once, twice, or three times per 10 minutes,” if managers so wish. Another company, Teramind, captures all keyboard activity and records “all information to comprehensive logs [that] can be used to formulate a base of user-based behavior analytics.”

Despite the easy availability of options, however, monitoring comes with real risk to the companies that pursue it. Surveillance threatens to erode trust between employers and employees. Accenture found that 52% of employees believe that mishandling of data damages trust — and only 30% of the C-suite executives who were polled reported themselves as “confident” that the data would always be used responsibly. Employees who are now subject to new levels of surveillance report being both “incredibly stressed out” by the constant monitoring and also afraid to speak up, a recipe for not only dissatisfaction but also burnout, both of which — ironically — decrease productivity. Worse, monitoring can invite a backlash: In October of 2019 Google employees went public about spy tools allegedly created to suppress internal dissent.

Tempting as it may be to implement monitoring in the service of protecting productivity, it also stands in stark contrast to recent trends in the corporate world. Many organizations have committed to fostering a better employee experience, with a particular focus on diversity and inclusion. There are not only strong ethical reasons for having one’s eye on that ball, but good bottom line reasons as well. The Deloitte Global Millennial Survey from 2019 found that 55% of millennials plan to leave employers that prioritize profits over people. Retention — which should be a priority for all companies, given the high expense of making and onboarding new hires — becomes difficult and costly for companies that don’t reflect those values. Given the risk of alienating employees coupled with the possibility of error and misapplication of these tools, it is quite likely that, for many, the juice just isn’t worth the squeeze.

Even so, some companies will still find it worth the tradeoffs. Justified fear of a collapsing economy reasonably drives employers to monitor their employees to ensure they are being productive and efficient. Indeed, they may even have ethically admirable aims in doing so, such as for the sake of their employees’ health and the health of the country as a whole. Furthermore, if the tools are deployed with the goal of discovering which employees are in need of additional help — more on this below — that may be all the more reason to monitor. But if your business concludes that it ought to monitor employees (for whatever reason), it is important to do so in a way that maximally respects its employees.

Here are six recommendations on how to walk this tightrope.

1. Choose your metrics carefully by involving all relevant stakeholders.
Applying numbers to things is easy, as is making quick judgments based on numeric scores spit out by a piece of software. This leads to both unnecessary surveillance and ill-formed decisions. It’s simply too easy to react to information that, in practice, is irrelevant to productivity, efficiency, and revenue. If you insist on monitoring employees, make sure what you’re tracking is relevant and necessary. Simply monitoring the quantity of emails written or read, for instance, is not a reliable indicator of productivity.

If you want the right metrics, then engage all of the relevant stakeholders in the process to determine those metrics, from hiring managers to supervisors to those who are actually being monitored. With regards to employee engagement it is especially important to reach both experienced and new employees, and that they are able to deliver their input in a setting where there is no fear of reprisal. For instance, they can be in discussion with a supervisor — but preferably not their direct supervisor, who has the authority to fire or promote them.

2. Be transparent with your employees about what you’re monitoring and why. 
Part and parcel of respecting someone is that you take the time to openly and honestly communicate with them. Tell your employees what you’re monitoring and why. Give them the opportunity to offer feedback. Share the results of the monitoring with them and, crucially, provide a system by which they can appeal decisions about their career influenced by the data collected.

Transparency increases employee acceptance rates. Gartner found that only 30% of employees were comfortable with their employer monitoring their email. But in the same study, when an employer shared that they would be monitoring and explained why, more than 50% of workers reported being comfortable with it.

3. Offer carrots as well as sticks.
Monitoring or surveillance software is implicitly tied to overseers who are bent on compliance and submission. Oppressive governments, for example, tie surveillance with threats of fines and imprisonment. But you don’t need to pursue monitoring as a method of oppression. You would do better to think about it as a tool by which you can figure out how to help your employees be more productive or reward them for their hustle. That means thinking about what kinds of carrots can be used to motivate and boost relevant numbers, not just sticks to discourage inefficiencies.

4. Accept that very good workers will not always be able to do very good work all the time — especially under present circumstances.
These are unique times and it would be wrong — both ethically and factually — to make decisions about who is and who is not a good employee or a hard worker based on performance under these conditions. Some very hard-working and talented employees may be stretched extraordinarily thin due to a lack of school and child care options, for instance. These are people you want to keep because, in the long run, they provide a tremendous amount of value. Ensure that your supervisors take the time to talk to their supervisees when the numbers aren’t what you want them to be. And again, that conversation should reflect an understanding of the employee’s situation and focus on creative solutions, not threats.

5. Monitor your own systems to ensure that people of color and other vulnerable groups are not disproportionately affected.
Central to any company’s diversity and inclusion effort is a commitment to eliminating any discrimination against traditionally marginalized populations. Precisely because they have been marginalized, those populations tend to occupy more junior roles in an organization — and junior roles often suffer the most scrutiny. This means that there is a risk of disproportionately surveilling the very groups a company’s inclusivity efforts are designed to protect, which invites significant ethical, reputational, and legal risks.

If employee monitoring is being used, it is important that the most junior people are not surveilled to a greater extent than their managers, or at least not to an extent that places special burdens on them. For instance, it would be particularly troublesome if very junior employees received a level of surveillance — say, sentiment analysis or keyboard logging — that only slightly more senior people did not. A policy that says, “This is how we monitor all employees” raises fewer ethical red flags than a policy that says, “This is how we monitor most employees, except for the most junior ones, who undergo a great deal more surveillance.” Equal application of the law, in other words, legitimately blunts the force of charges of discrimination.

6. Decrease monitoring when and where you can.
The impulse to monitor is understandable, especially in these times. But as people return to their offices — and even as some continue to work from home — look for places to pull back monitoring efforts where things are going well. This communicates trust to employees. It also corrects for the tendency to acquire more control than necessary when circumstances are not as severe as they once were.

At the end of the day, your employees are your most valuable assets. They possess institutional knowledge and skills others do not. You’ve invested time and money in them and they are very expensive to replace. Treating them with respect is not only something they deserve — it’s crucial for a company’s retention efforts. If your company does choose to move ahead with surveillance software in this climate, you need to remind yourself that you are not the police. You should be monitoring employees not with a raised baton, but with an outstretched hand.

SOURCE: Blackman, R. (28 May 2020) "How to Monitor Your Employees — While Respecting Their Privacy" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from

How to Be a 'Favorite Boss'

When managing employees during the crazy times that COVID-19 has brought upon many workplaces, many business professionals are finding new and innovative ways to get the job done. Read this blog post to learn more.

COVID-19 has certainly rocked our world as human resource professionals, but the opportunities we have before us as we navigate a global pandemic are innumerable. Think about it: We're managing employees' anxiety while moving toward a new remote business model that focuses on accountability and productivity. We're finding new and more effective ways of communicating when we don't have the benefit of MBWA (Management by Walking Around). We're strengthening our team and creating a deeper sense of trust and camaraderie. And we're building bullets for our resumes and LinkedIn profiles: remote learning, delegation, and virtual accountability and performance delivery. In other words, our entire business worldview has been turned upside down, yet we're still finding new and innovative ways of getting the job done—in some cases, even better than in the past.

"When you find yourself at a point of pure creation, you'll be amazed at what you're able to accomplish," said Kim Congdon, global vice president, human resources and talent management for Herbalife Nutrition in Torrance, Calif. "The obstacles you've faced before melt away, and you have an opportunity to reinvent yourself, your relationship to your team and your leadership brand."

To keep yourself motivated and growing in the right direction, ask yourself this question: "How do I become someone's favorite boss, and what might that look like in the COVID-19 era?"

Favorite Boss Characteristics

When you ask people about their favorite boss, their eyes light up and they say things like:

  • She always made me feel like she had my back.
  • He challenged me to do things I didn't think I was capable of.
  • She made me feel included, she appreciated my input, and I felt like I could almost do no wrong when working with her. My confidence soared.

"What you realize when hearing these types of descriptions," Congdon said, "is that when people describe their favorite boss, they talk about who that person is, not necessarily what that person did. It's the [boss's] character, encouragement, and personal concern and involvement that makes them someone's favorite boss." So the next question to ask yourself, especially in times of emergency, should be "Who am I, and who do I choose to be in this work relationship and during this challenge?"

Applying the Favorite Boss Standard to COVID-19

In addition to maintaining open communication, building a stronger team as we work remotely, and producing and measuring performance results, what other challenges are we facing right now? The list is long:

  • Loss of safety and security.
  • Loss of control due to unpredictable events.
  • Lack of emotional and social support (and feelings of loneliness and isolation).
  • Loss of loved ones.
  • Overwork, exhaustion and lack of self-care.

"We're not expected to turn into psychologists overnight," said Steve Axel, executive coach and transition coach for senior leaders in San Diego, "but many of these and other concerns are very real for certain people. Your role isn't to diagnose anything—you're not the appropriate resource for that. But you are responsible for helping people help themselves. Leading with empathy, always having a listening ear, and being careful not to make anyone feel judged for their fears or anxieties will go a long way in helping people come to terms with so many unknowns and their natural reactions to them."

You need to not only manage performance but also demonstrate the soft skills of listening, empathy and concern for your employees as they make their way through the crisis. Here's what your communication and leadership strategy might focus on during the pandemic:

  • Communicate organizational resources, like your employee assistance program, or local resources such as pastoral care and social services.
  • Be a calming influence for your team by introducing moments of pause or meditation.
  • Form "battle buddy" relationships. Pair up remote team members and ensure that people have each other's backs at all times.
  • Help people change their perspective so they'll change their perception of current events. Talk about how this too shall pass. Encourage people to think about where we will be one to five years from now when we look back on this time. How can your team use this period to develop their careers and skills?
  • Share recovery stories. Discuss prior generations and how they came to terms with seemingly insurmountable challenges—from the two world wars to the civil rights battles of the 1960s to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

"The point is, it's not business as usual," Axel said. "For some it may be, but for others who need more guidance, structure and direction, be there for them. Be present. Exercise mindfulness. And most important, come from observation rather than judgment. No one wants to be judged, especially if they don't feel particularly in control of their lives or feelings right now. Your gentle guidance, concern and empathetic ear will help them find themselves again. That's what a coach does—not give answers but help people come to their own solutions in their own time."

Favorite Bosses Also Push Productivity and Achievement

"We've got a job to do, work to be performed, and goals to meet in terms of performance and productivity," Congdon said. "'Favorite bosses know how to motivate and engage their people to perform at their best because nothing builds confidence and self-esteem like knowing that you're hitting it out of the park performance-wise."

To that end, follow some of these best practices when leading your team, either remotely or in return-to-work mode:

  • Create a shared document where everyone on the team can document their weekly progress, roadblocks and achievements. Use it for celebration and recognition.
  • Assign different staff members to lead weekly staff meetings and make them responsible for the agenda and follow-up items.
  • Schedule weekly or biweekly one-on-one meetings to check in on individuals' physical and mental well-being.
  • Schedule quarterly progress meetings on annual goals, roadblocks and achievements.
  • Ensure that remote workers' work/life balance needs are being met (e.g., by not working all hours of the night) and that nonexempt employees adhere strictly to wage and hour guidelines for meal and rest periods as well as overtime.

Now, more than ever, people are looking to leaders in business to respond quickly and proactively. This is the time to lean in, lead through the changes coming your way, show compassion for others, exercise the selflessness necessary to coach and mentor, and ensure high levels of individual and team performance. Help your employees process their physical and mental reactions stemming from fear and uncertainty and focus on work/life balance, productivity and shared achievements. You can use COVID-19 to redefine your leadership and communication style so that others look to you as that special boss; that individual who taught them how to lead, pivot and bend through a pandemic; and that leader who had their backs and encouraged them to discover their personal best through challenging times.

SOURCE: Falcone, P. (22 May 2020) "How to Be a 'Favorite Boss" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from