Whether full time, part time or a hybrid work model, the next few months will begin the first return to work in the office with a critical number of staff on site since the social unrest and sadness of the George Floyd murder; and more recently since the sentencing of Derek Chauvin, his murderer. If there is any workplace silver lining to Covid, it is that people did not have to physically return to the office on May 26, 2020 and sit side by side with their colleagues in the cubicle nearby; or share a table in the employee cafeteria. People of color were sad, tearful, angry, enraged, feeling helpless, frightened, and exhausted. Their allies also felt similarly. Returning to the workplace with all those emotions simmering was controlled because most people (at least those that worked in offices) were working from home. The many workers that were our essential workers, first responders, restaurant, food service and healthcare employees did return to their workplaces and to their credit, had to bear up and harness their emotions in addition to everything else we asked of them.
Employees of color and others are today more outspoken and expressive about what they want to see happen in our country, in our politics, and on the job. Now is not the time for companies to ask people to wait. Just prior to George Floyd, several companies and organizations were in the beginning phases of their diversity equity and inclusion policies and practices (DEI). Some were managing these issues well, and some were confronting resistance and the internal company “slow walk” of change. Every company and organization need to give serious thought to its weaknesses, to necessary improvements around issues of equity, opportunity, and organizational culture. Now is a time for leaders to do an organizational cultural reset as people return to work. The changes needed are not secret to anyone-everyone knows what they are. There is the promotion that was denied to the woman or person of color and the reason(s) is not well understood; there are the microaggressions that are used in the workplace with no consequence; there is the senior leader that is rude, inappropriate, and prejudiced, and everyone knows who that is, yet little has been done to him/her. And the list of examples goes on. These are examples of areas within the company where change could be made now, where the force of leadership can move things along relatively quickly. Leaders need to get input from staff and leadership at all levels for clarity and make the changes now. This “low hanging fruit” is not sufficient, but it is a start, creates momentum, and demonstrates commitment.
Let us use what we have learned and experienced over the past two years to move the nation and America’s company’s multiple agendas forward. There are changes to be made, and we know what needs to be done. We now must act.
Put my book, Leading a Life in Balance: Principles of Leadership from the Executive Suite to the Family Table on your summer reading list to get ready for returning to the office in the Fall.