The surprising flip side of provocative conversations at work

As the world becomes increasingly polarized around a wide range of hot topics, companies often try to keep these issues from becoming a distraction in the workplace. After all, employee conversations about social topics like climate, immigration, race, and gender equality seem like a potential source of discord — and human headaches. the. But here’s a counter-intuitive approach: get your employees to speak up. Based on Latest PwC Workforce Survey, the majority of employees had these conversations. Furthermore, they are benefiting from the experience.

We surveyed more than 52,000 workers in 44 territories — one of the largest global workforce surveys ever conducted. The questions covered a wide range of topics, from job matching to technology to the factors that would motivate people to ask for a raise or look for another job. But some of the most surprising findings involved discussions of sensitive topics in the workplace.

Most leaders see these conversations as a possible minefield, with the potential to distract employees (preferably) and — more likely — lead to disputes if employees feel outnumbered or contested. But of the respondents, 65% said they have these kinds of conversations occasionally or often. The number is even higher among younger employees.

Furthermore, people were asked about the overall impact of these conversations, and they were more likely to come up with a positive than a negative outcome (34 percentage points difference). The most popular of the positives? About 37% said that conversations about social issues help them better understand their colleagues and increase empathy for people with different points of view. Notably, people also say these conversations have helped create a more open and inclusive work environment — a key goal of most organizations today.

Negative effects, cited by a much smaller percentage of respondents, include an increased reluctance by employees to share their views, increased work stress, and making working with people who have Another point of view is more difficult.

All of these numbers, both good and bad, are higher for self-reported ethnic minorities. They were more likely than other respondents to say they had these conversations, more likely to say that these experiences had a positive impact, and also more likely to cite at least one negative impact. pole. The overall effect of these conversations was more intense for these employees.

These results link to a broad theme shown in other areas of the survey results: employees want to be who they really are in the workplace. They don’t want to be stifled by company policies, and they don’t want to feel that they have to censor their own opinions.

How leaders can foster a dialogue

These discussions are ongoing despite little active efforts on the part of organizations to facilitate them. Only 30% of employees said their company supports them to work effectively with like-minded people. This is a missed opportunity, given the importance of empathy and openness in building trust.

Employees want to be who they really are in the workplace. They don’t want to be stifled by company policies, and they don’t want to feel that they have to censor their own opinions.

Certainly, supporting and encouraging sensitive conversations isn’t easy. However, leaders can create the right conditions by setting standards, providing resources, and helping to ensure that these conversations take place in a safe environment, with ground rules. writing about avoiding judgment or trying to convince people to change their mind. Crucially, employees should always have the option of just showing up and listening to better understand how their colleagues are affected by something happening in the world.

The goal of these conversations should certainly not be reaching solutions or creating consensus. That way, fostering these conversations is also a growth opportunity for senior executives, who often feel much more comfortable in problem-solving mode. The role of the leader here is to help the company bring meaning, humanity, and social impact to the workforce, not to provide answers.

The key lesson learned for senior leaders is that you can’t isolate employees from the world’s problems. However, you can help them solve those problems and create a more inclusive, welcoming environment in which people are free to be who they are — and perhaps even learn from. their partner. And if senior leaders can help foster such an inclusive environment, it could help curb the polarized, extreme views that exist today and lead to a harmonious existence. more for everyone.

Author profile:

  • Bhushan Sethi is PwC’s joint global leader in people and organizations. Based in New York, he is the dean of PwC US and an adjunct professor at New York University’s Leonard N. Stern School of Business.
  • Peter Brown is PwC’s joint global leader in people and organizations. He has more than 20 years of experience helping large multinational corporations redefine how work gets done and create an innovative talent ecosystem to build a dynamic and agile workforce. Based in London, he is a partner of PwC UK.

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