The Corporate Balancing Act
When the world’s issues are no longer left at the company door
By Kay Gimmestad, LCSW
At the start of the pandemic, I was asked to consider consulting for a small financial services company. A requirement for the consultant was to advise the senior management on social justice movements, such as Black Lives Matter, #MeToo and LGBTQ rights. The world of work was changing, and personal and professional boundaries were becoming more blurred. Yet, I was surprised by the management’s openness to receiving consultations on how these critical social justice movements could impact employees.
Workplaces have always been impacted by global issues and events, and employees have increasingly brought their concerns about these issues into the workplace in recent years. While it is important for workplaces to be aware of and sensitive to the concerns of their employees, it is also important for employers to recognize that work life and personal life are separate and distinct domains. Employees have the right to a work environment that is free from the distractions of personal issues. (Other employees have the right to feel these cultural issues cannot be left at the door when they go to work.)
We have never had so many critical issues at play at the same time in our history. We have Covid-19, the war in Ukraine, mass shootings that are becoming routine occurrences, social justice issues, climate issues, and a contentious political environment in the US.
While it is not the role of workplaces to address all critical issues in the world, workplaces can play a positive role in addressing issues that impact their employees and communities. For example, workplaces can provide resources and support for employees dealing with mental health issues or coping in a post-Covid world, and they can implement policies to address workplace discrimination and harassment.
At the same time, it is important for workplaces to strike a balance between addressing critical issues and maintaining a focus on work-related goals. Employers should avoid creating an environment where employees feel obligated to engage in discussions about non-work topics, and they should respect employees’ privacy and personal boundaries.
In summary, while workplaces do have a role to play in addressing critical issues that impact their employees and communities, it is also important for companies to maintain a separation between work and personal life. Employers will need to make a judgment call on whether or not they provide a forum through management or the EAP to process critical issues with their staff.
Kay Gimmestad, LCSW-C is a business coach and clinician in New York City with 20 years of experience working in the profit and not for profit sectors of Human Resources, Health and Human Services. She has built a reputation for being highly skilled in facilitating behavior change while working with employees, both individually and in groups, on matters relating to performance management, substance abuse, crisis intervention, and stress/wellness.