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Preventing Social Distance Shaming In The Workplace

Published: Thursday 4th June 2020

Until a few months ago, social distancing was a term few of us had ever heard. Now the term has become synonymous with the global fight against the Covid19 pandemic. But with thousands sticking to the UK Government’s guidelines of avoiding all but essential travel, it means those who do venture outside are immediately more obvious. This in turn, has led to the rise of social distance shaming, a new social phenomenon. And while social distancing is integral to battling the coronavirus spread, shaming people can backfire. What’s worse, this new phenomenon has slowly started making its way into the workplace, along with its consequences.

What Is Social Distance Shaming

Social distance shaming is the act of shaming someone for either not exercising self-restraint during the pandemic or not following the official government advice. This rising phenomenon can take place outdoors or even online through social media. And although the anger and fear that drives it is understandable since disobedience to policies can endanger people’s lives by risking the spread of the virus, no form of shaming should be justified or tolerated.

Young businesswoman wearing face mask while working on a computer in the office.

The Impact Of Social Distance Shaming In The Workplace

When someone is shamed it causes the employee to feel badly about themselves and there’s a loss of self-esteem. This downslide triggers memories of similar experiences which in turn lead to a deeper and more painful experience. As a result, this emotional and mental impact leads directly to a physical one and both set drivers of poor performance and employee disengagement.

What’s more, social distance shaming can result in reduced productivity, create a hostile work environment, promote absenteeism or even lead to costly, and possibly embarrassing legal issues for the company. Other negative effects include increased use of sick leave, high staff turnover, erosion of employee loyalty and commitment, increased costs to recruit and train new employees as well as poor public image and negative publicity.

Consequently, this type of behaviour poses a real threat to your organisation’s success as well as your employees mental health and well-being. Therefore, it’s something that employers should certainly be concerned about. Fortunately, there are measures that employers can take to avoid and deal with social distance shaming in the workplace.

Diverse colleagues sit in circle have fun talking on business training with coach, multiethnic workers discuss ideas engaged in educational meeting, employees involved in teambuilding activity

Create Comprehensive Employee Policies

Clearly defined policies give a consistent message to all employees. Employers should ensure that appropriate policies on returning to work are in place before employees are back in the office. All policies should be clear for each department and for individuals, outlining the possible consequences if employees break them. These policies shouldn’t have legal jargon. They should be plain language policies that people can understand. Moreover, they should include what is acceptable, and how to address issues that are unacceptable. Communicating these policies in advance and across all internal channels to your employees will be crucial to their successful implementation.

Lead By Example And Deliver Feedback To Inspire

Resiliency isn’t born out of insults or public shaming. If you want to grow your people, then lead by example and deliver feedback to inspire. Honesty is the best policy. Be open and straightforward. Describe the behaviour you want your employees to embrace and welcome any questions that may occur from these changes. You are giving them a roadmap to success.

Use Socrates Triple Filter Test To Avoid Gossip

Keep a secret, serious man zipping his mouth shut. Quiet concept

In ancient Greece, Socrates, a famous philosopher was visited by an acquaintance of his, who was looking to share some juicy gossip. The man asked Socrates if he would like to know the story, he had just heard about a friend of theirs. Socrates, in his wisdom, replied by asking him the following three questions, before he let his acquaintance share the gossip.

The first filter is truth. “Is what you are about to tell me about this person truthful?”

The second filter is goodness. “Is what you are about to share something good about the person?”

The third filter is usefulness. “Is what you want to tell me about this person going to be useful to me?”

Embracing and promoting this triple filter test in your company culture will help to avoid gossip, stop rumours, and prevent any employees from being stigmatised.

Promote A Positive Workplace Culture

Friends shaking elbows outdoors. People greeting together by new style for prevent coronavirus. Don't shake hands. Elbow greeting style. Greeting with elbows. Stop handshakes. Coronavirus epidemic.

Your leadership sets the tone for how employees should treat each other. Make it clear what type of behaviour is permitted and what is prohibited, such as social distance shaming. Consistent and clear communication of any preventative measures and available resources is key to ensuring your employees that their safety comes first. Letting them know that the company has taken all necessary safety precautions, will instill a sense of trust and reassurance in them. In doing so, instead of fear and doubt a positive attitude will gradually develop within the company.

Social distance shaming will not be the solution to the coronavirus problem and shaming people will not help. By increasing hostility in a volatile environment, aggression functions as a means of coping. Instead, people should use communication in calm and non-aggressive ways. After all, we are all in this together.

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