Highly publicized, harmful, and often violent events that target marginalized members of the community – also called mega-threat – happens frequently in the United States. Just in the last few months, there was a shooting of a LGBTQ+ night club in Colorado Springstwo mass shootings happened in California targeting people of Asian descent, Antisemitic rhetoric continues to riseand a Black man named Tire Nichols was killed at the hands of Memphis police.
It can be difficult to know what – if anything – to say to your colleagues who belong to marginalized identity groups targeted at these events. In fact, dominant group employees (eg, white or cisgender workers) often perceive conversations about these events as difficult, sensitive, and high-risk. They may keep quiet to avoid any possible embarrassment or to avoid saying the wrong thing.
However, saying anything to a colleague who has experienced the vicarious trauma of a mega-threat is likely to harm the colleague’s well-being, work engagement, and possibly the interpersonal relationship between co-workers. Silence may mean that the threatened aspect of their identity is not valued or important in the workplace.
For guidance on how to help isolated partners amid a major threat, our collective expertise led us to research the work ally — individuals advancing the interests of marginalized groups — and their instrumental support role. How about the employees? effective support their colleagues during the mega-threat?
We answer this question in three parts that correspond directly to the three key ingredients of the ally: self-education, social support, and advocacy. Although we offer a range of specific suggestions based on this allied framework, we encourage you to view it as a useful collection of tools, knowing that time and place for each is shaped by situational and interpersonal factors, such as closeness to a marginalized partner or the reporting relationship with that person.
In general, when it comes to educating oneself about racism, prejudice, and systemic oppression, long-term, active self-education strategies such as extensive reading, journaling, and self-reflection are critical. In fact, it can facilitate important, necessary, and productive conversations about race at work — and increase willingness to help colleagues in the wake of future mega-threats.
Similar to long-term self-education, however, it is important to consider the short-term, in the current ways that employees can self-educate immediately after a mega-threat.
Understand what a mega-threat is and why it stands out from other extreme events.
As highly publicized social events target members of a marginalized group (or the group itself), recognize that mega-threat devalue the identity of the targeted group, endanger psychological and physical safety, and tend to victimize marginalized group members through relentless media coverage. Then, identify the unique features of this specific example that may be unique to fellow members of the affected group. For example, highly publicized threats of violence may be interpreted and experienced differently than a mass shooting in which many members of a marginalized group are targeted and killed.
Consume news from multiple, trusted sources.
It is especially critical to find articles, podcasts, and video reels (to name a few) created by members of marginalized communities to create your own perspective before talking to your partner about the mega-threat. This may include reading op-eds written by members of the target identity group, such as those written by Asian and Asian American journalists and scholars after January 21St Monterey Park shooting.
Recognize that the effects of mega-threats extend beyond geographic location.
Today, news is shared quickly and widely across multiple technology platforms. This means that no matter how far the event is from your workplace, the embodied threat – where individuals with the identity of the event’s victims feel they are closer to experiencing a similar injury – will inevitably strike nearby. very at home for your co-workers.
Consider your own limitations.
As with much of the self-education you engage in, there are nuances to the minority identity experience that can only be fully appreciated as a member of the affected group. Use conversations with marginalized employees as an opportunity to engage in active listening and continue your learning. Avoid statements like “I understand completely” or “I know how you feel.”
The violation and dehumanizing nature of the mega-threat means being marginalized with, say substitute victims, tend to feel especially undervalued. We find that one of the best ways to provide support during such collective traumatic experiences is to remind them of how many they are. respected — as an inherently valued member of society and an incredibly valued co-worker. In serving this, there are important considerations that must be front and center.
Reaffirm your whole self to coworkers who belong in the workplace.
A mega-threat directly targets aspects of one’s own meaning and sense of worth. Clearly communicate to your colleague that they are inherently valued and the organization is a better place to work because of who they are. For example, “I’m so glad you’re here.”
Recognize that partners may differ in their support needs.
For example, a Black employee dealing with another instance of a Black civilian being killed by the police may need different support than an employee who identifies as LGBTQ+ after a shooting that targets those members of their community. In fact, while one partner may welcome the opportunity to talk through their thoughts and emotions, others may prefer the distraction to focus on work. However, it is also important to recognize that the desire of the same partner to discuss the event may change from one day to the next, or even. CONTENTS a day at work.
Don’t just ask, “Are you okay?”
It tends to have an obvious answer and therefore does not help a question as it is intended. Instead, tell your partner that you are thinking of them because of the recent mega-threat. and, as others have suggestedit is more useful to ask your distressed companions, “How are you today?” recognizing that experience may vary from day to day.
Identify ways to help now.
Because of the widespread impact of mega-threats on marginalized individuals psychological and physiological well-beingfind ways to offer immediate, instrumental support that allows them to put their health first amidst impending work-related responsibilities. For example, ask, “What’s the most taxing thing you have this week that I can get off your plate?” or “How can I make this week easier for you?”
To improve their mega-threat theory, one of us (Angelica Leigh) and her colleague Shimul Melwani, emphasized the importance of deliberately breaking organizational norms in ways that uplift and empower members of minority groups, such as speaking up when others may remain silent . It should be a regular, if not daily, effort – both within the organization and in the wider community.
That said, after a mega-threat, an ally can use the increased attention around systemic discrimination as a springboard to highlight minority group members and become a voice for needed change. o.
Organize or attend community events.
This may include town halls or other forums aimed at educating individuals about the insidious nature of systemic discrimination and promoting actionable steps that employees, leaders, and organizations can take.
Use platforms created during specific events of heritage month.
Black History Month or Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, for example, not only offers an opportunity to learn about the histories, cultures, and contributions of marginalized identity groups but also gives you a time and place to champion the interests of marginalized employees.
Join the employee resource group (ERG).
Find a group whose interests you want to see advance in the organization, if allies are eligible to become members. Stay committed to it in the long term, especially since reducing discrimination is a long-term process. Remaining a committed member of an ERG will also help you develop closer relationships with your fellow members of identity groups different from your own. This established relationship may make it easier for you to provide social support to these partners when they are dealing with a major threat.
Recognize the value of mental wellness days.
This is especially important when there are major threats, and developing a culture where such days are encouraged can greatly help affected employees. If possible, give a co-worker a virtual option for a meeting, allow people to work from home with the video cameras turned off, or give a day off as -know the emotional labor that goes along with a day at the office after a mega-threat.
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Although it may be uncomfortable to reach out to fellow sufferers, doing so can make a huge difference for that person, while also improving inclusion and belonging in organizations in the long term. We encourage employees to educate themselves, help – rather than avoid – co-workers who are suffering from compliance with major threats, and use these opportunities to promote upward change.