Why staying silent on controversy makes you the loudest of all

The leak of the Supreme Court opinion that will, barring any dramatic changes in the next two months, overturn Roe v. Wade was a jolt no matter what side of the aisle that you fall on. Yes, it was expected, but seeing it in writing made it suddenly, strikingly real.

Companies that fail to see and address the impact of this news may be doing a disservice to their employees and stakeholders.

Most of the generations in the workforce haven’t experienced a reality where abortion rights weren’t legally protected nationwide. For many people, this is a moment that will raise a multitude of questions that companies need to be thinking about. Ones like: do I make enough money to take care of my health? Do I feel safe and protected in my state? Do I feel like my company cares about my well-being? Do I feel supported to make the best decisions for my security? As discussions occur, this can also lead to fear or feelings of alienation for individuals that feel the culture is going against them one way or the other.

Some companies – Bumble, Amazon, and Salesforce, to name just a few – have already taken steps to address the effects of Roe likely being overturned. Yes, a number of factors may affect what actions, if any, a company might take in response to this SCOTUS leak. But it’s worth knowing that, in today’s world, choosing to remain silent is just as powerful, if not more, than choosing to speak up.

Many of today’s employees care about much more than their take-home pay. They care about company values, and evidence that their companies stand by those values. The Great Resignation has shown that people are willing to walk if they don’t feel satisfied at work – something that corporate beliefs and culture can dramatically impact.

Look at the Disney employees that walked out of work in response to the company’s “tepid” reaction to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill in March. Their protest, both physical and virtual, ultimately spurred the company to take further action.

Or turn to Ben & Jerry’s reaction to the murder of George Floyd, something they swiftly condemned and, in the years since, led to their ongoing advocacy for racial equity. They received massive public support for being one of the first companies to publicly confront the racism at-play.

Employees want to know that their companies care about their humanity. Responding to massive developments in the news that will absolutely affect their day-to-day lives, whether at work or otherwise, is paramount to growing and sustaining employee trust and commitment. And it needs to be genuine.

Yes, it can be a terrifying thing to begin to consider how to best speak about these divisive issues. But businesses truly are nothing without the people that support them every day. Companies owe it to their employees to respect and acknowledge that.

If you’ve made it this far and are wondering how in the world you even start to think about how to respond to any kind of controversial news, HBR has a great framework. Alternately, here are a few questions to get you started:

  • Audience: Who do you want to reach? Employees, investors, the public?
  • Channels: How can you reach that audience in the most authentic way possible?
  • Messaging: What are your values? How are your values in play in relation to the news you’re looking to address?
  • Timing: Is this a developing story? Will it require multiple moments of communication, or one?

The answers to these questions will change with every story, every audience, and every message you want to convey. At the end of the day, the most important thing is this: remember that your employees are people. They’re going to be looking for guidance and support when issues arise in the world that affect them and the people they love even if it doesn’t seem to affect their job at all.

That’s the catch. All of these things – SCOTUS leaks, foreign wars, day-to-day crises at home – are going to affect their job. It’ll impact their performance, their curiosity, their dedication. The best companies are the ones that will know that and react accordingly.