Maintaining workplace unity in the face of terrorism

Thursday February 2, 2017

Millions of workers in the UK – from every race, religion and ethnic background – have been horrified by the murderous acts in Paris. Emotionally watching and re-watching the callous, brutal murders, and then being moved by the quiet dignity of the bereaved relatives and the bravery of many survivors.

With our government and security forces confirming that there is a real and ever present risk of similar attacks in this country, is it any wonder we are all on our guard? This can manifest itself in many ways: from simply being more aware of people and parcels, to having an unjustified mistrust of anyone different. In extreme cases we hear of attacks such as hijabs being ripped off in the street, mosques being vandalised or set on fire, and taxi drivers being beaten up.  The fear of Islamic extremism is stirring up a misguided and worrying mistrust of Muslim people as a whole. Among those murdered were at least five followers of Islam, and the mainstream Muslim population all over the globe have decried the attack as ferociously as any Christian, Jew or Atheist.

This fear has the potential to create divisions in communities and therefore could create problems in the workplace. It is really important that in the days and weeks to come, managers are aware and take steps to maintain unity in their workforce.

First awareness. The recommended “managing by walking about” style will be an excellent use of managers’ time right now. Whilst walking, you can look for signs that groups are becoming segregated or that some workers are being isolated, and can listen for unhealthy comments and murmurings. Then you should look for ways to unite the team again. This could be a charity fundraiser, but one that does not relate to the current terrorism or refugee plight. A health charity such as Cancer Research or Macmillan could be a good unifier, as cancer has no respect for the colour of someone’s skin or the name of their God.

After 9/11, division in US workplaces spiked with some particularly nasty cases. One, which ended up in court, was at meatpacking company JBS Swift and Co. The Somali and Muslim employees raised a case of discrimination which included a failure to accommodate their religious requirements for prayer breaks, along with a pattern of abusive behaviour from co-workers. The workers claimed that managers, supervisors and other employees regularly threw blood, meat and bones at them and that there was offensive anti-Somali, anti-Muslim and anti-Black graffiti in the toilets.

It is incredibly worrying that more than half the British population see Muslims as a threat, so it really is not surprising that this manifests itself in discrimination in the workplace.

Discrimination in recruitment is also one to be aware of as an employer. Recently a number of major organisations such as HSBC and the BBC announced that they are to introduce “name-blind” recruitment in a bid to curb discrimination against candidates with “ethnic-sounding names”.

The aim of these cowardly terrorists is to divide us, to pit one against the other, to destroy our society. The least we can do is not play into their hands. Workplaces need to be united to succeed and to drive your business forward. Diverse teams can add so much to your business. As an employer it is your duty to be aware of, challenge and unite against religious discrimination in the workplace and in society.

For any help tackling these issues please get in touch with The HR Dept.

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