This story was originally published in WorkLife, our sibling publication.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on abortion rights led many companies to come out in support of employees seeking access to reproductive health services, with employers ranging from Disney to Dick’s Sporting Goods vowing to cover the travel expenses of women who must travel to other states for them.
Meanwhile, business leaders have also had to figure out how to manage employees’ impassioned feelings and discourse around the court’s controversial ruling.
“With respect to companies managing internal dialogue, we know every company has their own culture, values and approach to conducting business,” said Tracy Avin, CEO of the HR networking platform Troop HR. “While remaining respectful of that, it is of the utmost importance that employees know they have a safe space to deal with their professional matters and personal issues that may cross over into the workplace. Without that, there can be no trust, and trust is the foundation of any healthy relationship, professional or personal.”
With that in mind, Troop HR — which counts among its members HR executives from companies like Amazon, Walmart and Johnson & Johnson — has in recent days seen companies use employee resource groups (ERGs) to facilitate employee conversations, as well as executive leadership sending companywide emails to employees stressing their support for their teams’ wellbeing and the availability of managers for support.
Avin also advised HR managers to devise a list of third-party support systems such as employee assistance programs (EAPs) and services for mental health support that employees can tap into.
Employee mental health has been a growing concern of the c-suite ever since the pandemic struck and remains top of mind in the wake of the SCOTUS decision.
“While HR departments will be dealing with possible additions to medical policies, they will also be dealing with employees needing mental and physical health days off to deal with the ramifications of Roe’s reversal,” said Sara Bandurian, who heads operations at the digital and design agency Online Optimism.
On the day of the court ruling on June 24 and into this week, the company let employees know it was OK if they needed to take time off because they were processing the news — in fact, time off was encouraged.
While some employers may feel uncomfortable with communication around such a contentious issue, there are solid reasons why they should not avoid it, according to David Gu, founder of the online retailer Neutypechic. “Providing a space for employees to discuss their thoughts and feelings on Roe v. Wade can help to foster a more open and inclusive workplace,” he explained.
Employees who feel an employer is taking the time to listen to their concerns and address them in a respectful way are more likely to be engaged, productive team members, as Gu sees it.
“As the country continues to grapple with this complex issue, companies have an opportunity to model respectful dialogue and civil discourse for their employees,” he said. “By encouraging employees to openly discuss Roe v. Wade, companies can build a more informed and productive workforce, and maybe even help move the country forward on this divisive issue.”
Jes Osrow, cofounder and COO of The Rise Journey, an HR consultancy, believes company leaders are right to take potentially controversial positions — including the disclosure of their political affiliations and the organizations they support financially.
“If any organization wants to have a political affiliation, that’s fine,” she argued. “This isn’t about whether your political affiliation is incorrect or correct. It’s about your organization and your people knowing who they’re working for. It’s important that you have folks who align with your values.”
As she sees it, “Companies need to create a sense of humanity, and how they do this is by making themselves more human.”