It is impossible to keep the news from affecting the workplace when the world is bombarding us with information about war, humanitarian crises, a global pandemic, senseless violence, and ongoing racial tensions.

When leaders fail to address current events, topics that almost certainly affect a portion of their employees, they miss a huge opportunity to build trust, belonging, and connection. Leaders need to metaphorically reach across the table to check in with their team and see if anyone has concerns or is affected by the latest news.

What happens when good leaders ignore bad news?

Many traditional leaders believe that the topics outside of work are personal and should be left at the door. Your personal life is not the company's concern. Some assume no one is affected because the news does not involve them directly or because they are very good at blocking out anything other than work. Others want to acknowledge the news and support their staff but are unsure how to address the topic without upsetting people.

Whatever the reasons for not initiating a conversation about current events, the result is that you come across as uncaring or out-of-touch to those impacted by the crisis. They feel unseen and isolated in their worry or loss. Even when leaders choose not to discuss current events, the news reverberates throughout the workplace, and all employees notice the lack of leaders' involvement in the conversation. 

What happens when good leaders address bad news?

As a leader, it is your responsibility to support your employees and lead your team through the current crisis. When you acknowledge the impact a difficult situation has on people's personal lives, you connect with them as human beings. By connecting with their experience, you demonstrate compassion and offer them the respect of being noticed and heard. 

This shift -- this act of turning toward the other person -- creates a deeper connection. It builds trust and loyalty. It lets your employees know that they are part of a larger system that cares about them.

These days, employees are leaving their jobs by the thousands. In many cases, they leave because they feel that their employers didn't care about them or their experience at the company. To turn the tide, it's time to create opportunities for open discussion and true connection.

Three steps to connecting with your team in a time of crisis.

The route to having these interactions is simpler than you think, but it all begins with creating a safe environment within the organization. This is the only way anyone will feel comfortable enough to share what they're going through. Here are the three steps to take to connect with your team during a difficult news cycle: 

Acknowledge the incident publicly. In a company-wide email or town hall meeting, name the event and make it clear where you stand so your team knows whether it is safe to talk about the matter with you. Keep it simple, such as: 

  • "We're all watching the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Ukraine. We would like to make a contribution to an organization that is providing relief." 
  • "The fires out west are raging. If you have suggestions for how we can support the residents in those areas, please let us know."  
  • "The tension in the streets of our city is palpable. We are hosting an open dialogue tomorrow evening for anyone that would like to join us."

Recognize the impact the news has on your team. Having named the event, you need to show your team that you know it impacts them in different ways and that some may be more directly affected than others. It helps to show your humanity here as well: 

  • "I'm having a hard time processing all of the news. I find the information overwhelming and distracting, even though I don't have friends or family in the region." 
  • "I wonder how the news on this very difficult topic affects everyone. Please be sure to address these issues in your team meetings."
  • "If you or your family are directly affected by the current crisis, and you are comfortable telling us, we'd like to support you if we can."

Offer your support. Offer a listening ear without requiring people to share their struggles. Let them know how you might be able to support them. Again, you can keep this short and simple: 

  • "If you would like to talk, I am here to listen. And if you need some additional support, such as a few days off to take care of your family, or a reduced workload, we can work together with your manager to make the necessary adjustments." 

Opening the door to these conversations will create a sense of unity and connectedness that results in a "we are in this together" culture. And that should be the end goal for all workplace environments. Even if you have to tell someone that you "wish we could help you more than we can," you are demonstrating that they matter to you and the entire organization. 

What message do you want to send?

Choosing to be silent about what is going on outside the office doors might feel like the safest bet. But your silence makes a strong statement, and it may not be the one you want to convey. Your action or inaction sends a strong signal to your employees. If you make it clear that everyone is a part of the larger organization, you help them feel connected to you, their workplace, and one another. That sense of connection will help your entire team get through even the most difficult times.

Finally, let me assuage any fears you may have when addressing your team during any intense news cycle: You don't have to be perfect. You simply have to be present and interested in your employees in a genuinely compassionate way. Nothing will help your organization function better than when everyone acknowledges each other's humanity.