How Managers Can Handle Sensitive Topics with Employees

Recent news, including Supreme Court decisions, can spark uncomfortable and emotionally charged conversations in the workplace. Employees may naturally want to express their thoughts and feelings, which won’t stop because they’re at work. Leaders and managers want to be prepared to address these sensitive topics. The following are some tips that you may find helpful.


Understand Everyone will Respond Differently

While emotions might be strong for many employees, there is no universal response. Some may be happy and relieved; others angry, sad, or numb. Our life experiences and worldview will affect how we process and react to information. Allow space for a variety of emotional and behavioral responses. If you observe an employee that is emotional or acting differently, reach out and ask how they are doing.


Acknowledge the Difficulty

Avoiding a difficult or sensitive topic does not make it go away. You can build trust and create a safe space for all employees by simply acknowledging that something is a sensitive or complex matter. If you have an opinion on the topic, you do not need to express it. Instead, make it known that you’re available should anyone wish to discuss the issue further.



Make yourself available to any staff who wishes to speak about these issues and give space for them to talk openly and honestly. Allowing people to be heard is powerful. Embrace the opportunity to listen to the opinions and thoughts of your team with an open mind.

Don’t worry about saying the “right” thing in response to your employees’ emotions. Instead, you can reflect on what you’ve heard them express and ask how you can help. For example, “Thank you for sharing. I hear you saying that you feel about the recent news. That is certainly understandable. How can I help support you right now?”


Follow Up

You don’t want sensitive conversations to be one-and-done, especially with any employees who have expressed strong responses. A quick follow-up can make employees feel like you genuinely care. Keep it simple by asking how they are doing and if there is anything more you can do to address their concerns.


Remember to Self-Care

It’s easy to put aside your self-care to support your staff. However, if you are not taking the time to replenish your resiliency reserves, it won’t be easy to continue to support others.

Some ways to self-care include eating healthy, hydrating, getting enough sleep, using mindfulness or meditation apps, and exercising. You may also want to limit your exposure to media coverage during challenging times. Share with your team what you are doing to self-care and encourage them to do the same.


Refer to the EAP and Other Resources as Appropriate

No one expects you to counsel your employees. If an employee is really distressed by any event, encourage them to contact your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for additional support.


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