How are businesses responding to the war?
The unfortunate reality of this question is that some may ask: ‘which war?’ We’re now over 600 days into the Russia-Ukraine war and over the last month there is another war on our minds. A quick glance across news outlets shows us reports of the ‘Israel-Hamas’ and the naming alone showcases how complex it is to speak of who is involved, where it takes place, and how it is referenced.
A number of businesses have been public with statements about the war. In a recent piece by the FT, we noted how businesses are being criticised for ‘picking a side’, but are also condemned for staying silent. Recent YouGov data highlights why there’s a challenge - 33% of adults in Great Britain don’t know which side they sympathise with more, while 29% say they empathise with both sides equally. Looking at ‘mainstream’ data masks the reality of what many groups are feeling right now.
Here at The Unmistakables we have been taken by the fact that for many this is the first time Israel and Palestine have been spoken about in the workplace, despite it often being a topic of conversation at home for many of us. This surfacing of what often felt like a private or familial conversation into the workplace demonstrates how the lines between home and work are blurring. In turn, it presents new challenges for business leaders.
At the same time, businesses have now become the most trusted institution ahead of NGOs, governments and the media (Edelman Trust Barometer, 2022). This continuation from Covid-19, and the rising levels of distrust in society means that leaders in organisations need to understand, adapt and respond to global crises on the daily. However what doesn’t exist in leadership textbooks is the history of the Middle East. Even the term ‘Middle East’ is losing favour amongst some given it is stated as a region positioned ‘east of’ Europe, which gets centered. Some are using SWANA (South West Asia and North Africa) so it is more geographically accurate.
The history of the region over the last 3,000 years covers the movement of people around the world in a way that was impacted by discrimination and societal change. It was Britain’s promise to establish a ‘national home for the Jewish people’ in Palestine through the Balfour Declaration, which received backlash and resistance and brings us our more recent context. In our Speakeasier podcast, Sathnam Sanghera argued that the things we never learned might be holding us back, and in many ways that remains true today. There is no way to look forward without taking time to look back.
A recent survey by Muslamic makers found that 76% of 218 Muslims surveyed do not feel safe expressing their views on the SWANA region at work, whilst almost half are afraid of the repercussions. At the same time, safety for Jewish colleagues is paramount and we are seeing reports of how antisemitic hate crimes are up by 1,350% from 15 to 218 in London while Islamophobic hate crimes are up by 140% from 42 to 103.
We are seeing widespread social media posts aiming to raise awareness, education and knowledge at the same time. All of this can feel incredibly overwhelming, and is soliciting a sense of collective grief that many people are working through often in isolation or in fear.
One real focus right now needs to be on colleagues who are feeling the compounding effects of living and working through a perma-crisis. This macro context does nothing to blunt the effects being felt today, particularly for those who are directly affected with friends, family and colleagues in the region. It all goes to highlight the need to take internal steps first before rushing to external statements. These steps can be:
Checking in with colleagues individually
Allowing space for grief, particularly with those who have family directly impacted
Creating spaces to make sense of what’s going on in the world
Prioritising collective care and mental health needs of the team
Sharing resources such as mental health guides and explainers
Encouraging regular breaks from the news cycle
The last point is particularly pertinent as we continue to be exposed to a relentless cycle of news from multiple sources. A majority of those in the UK (73%) think it’s fairly or very unlikely that the war will be resolved within the next 10 years, which compounds a sense of hopelessness.
The need to ensure long-term rest and resilience as the shorter days and darker nights set in has never been more important.