Today’s workforces are coping with many layers of overlapping stress stemming from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and our country’s social unrest. These events have also generated a greater awareness of our country’s systemic inequities, especially as they relate to health care, police brutality and generational trauma.

It’s natural for events like these to generate anxiety and upheaval in people’s lives. However, when this turmoil seeps into our professional lives, it can impact how we interact with each other and how we manage our work.

To remain resilient during these challenging times, some organizations have asked me to facilitate “guided discussions.” These are virtual meetings where small groups of employees gather online using such platforms as Skype or Zoom.

Each discussion is different

These meetings have become an opportunity for people to speak their truths in a safe and nonjudgmental environment. As the facilitator, my goal is to help participants process their thoughts and feelings so they can get to know and understand each other better—and work together successfully.

I begin our meetings by outlining some ground rules so that everyone feels welcome to share their personal thoughts and experiences. I assure them that this will be a safe space—and while we may not always agree with each other, we will respect each other.

I then ask a series of open-ended questions to prompt the discussion and keep people engaged. The topics have included racism, implicit bias, use of force, social injustices and more. People often discover that they do not fully understand our country’s history. They also see how today’s events impact various groups of people differently.

My goal is to help people understand how today’s events are affecting their mental health, relationships, work performance and coping strategies. We also look at ways we can support each other so that the entire workforce can remain strong and cohesive in the months ahead.

Part of a larger initiative

I recommend that these hour-long discussions be viewed as part of a larger strategic initiative to incorporate EDI, or equity, diversity and inclusion, into the fabric of an organization. Several organizations are doing just that.

For example, after a recent discussion, one group realized that their employees needed to know more about each other from a cultural perspective. I will be assessing the managers’ cultural competency and recommending various resources to help them become more culturally competent.

Another customer used our guided discussion as springboard to develop a year-long training program and outlined topics for the months ahead. A third organization has decided to have quarterly discussions on issues related to social justice.

But it’s not just organizations and their employees who benefit from these conversations. They’ve also helped me process my layers of stress and made me more aware of what others are experiencing.

To learn more about our training programs, please visit the Organizational Development page of our website.