What the Supreme Court’s decision on affirmative action means for employers, ways to work with remote employees

Plus, strategies to reduce stress in employees.

Greetings, comms pros! Let’s look at some news stories from this week and see what lessons we can learn from them.

1. Supreme Court strikes down affirmative action for college admissions decisions

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down affirmative action admissions policies at UNC and Harvard on the grounds that they violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution.

According to NBC News:

The court effectively overturned the 2003 ruling Grutter v. Bollinger, in which the court said race could be considered as a factor in the admissions process because universities had a compelling interest in maintaining diverse campuses. In doing so the court scrapped decades of precedent including one ruling dating to 1978 that upheld a limited consideration of race in university admissions as a way to combat historic discrimination against Black people and other minorities.

This decision is still fresh, but it’s worth considering what this could mean for overall DE&I efforts at work. It could hinder an organization’s ability to build out more diverse talent pipelines, which will have a cultural ripple effect on the organization as a whole.

Forbes reports:

The ruling means universities cannot use race to pursue diversity initiatives—which is something employers have never been able to do—so there shouldn’t be any direct implications to businesses’ hiring practices or internal diversity efforts, but some experts have speculated the decision will have a “chilling effect” on businesses that will grow concerned about lawsuits against diverse hiring practices and initiatives to improve diversity.

Alvin Tillery, a political science professor and director of Northwestern’s Center for the Study of Diversity and Democracy, told Forbes those lawsuits will surely come, but expects companies will still be able “to set targets and baseline goals around diversifying their workplace.”

It’s also prudent to think about how this could impact the org chart, particularly from a DE&I perspective. In a piece for Fast Company, Amira Barger argues that DE&I shouldn’t answer to HR, because DE&I is meant to address issues and structures that go far beyond the scope of an HR department. She goes on to say that DE&I can’t be viewed through the lens of HR, because DE&I focuses on systems that originate outside an organization.

This Supreme Court decision is still new, and it’ll be a while before we see the fallout from it, but we should keep an eye on how it might impact diversity benchmarks and enterprise actions going forward.

2. Why remote work guidelines, not policies are the way to go

We’ve written a lot about remote work here, particularly the benefits it provides to workers. But more companies are calling their employees back to their office desks on at least a part-time basis. Forbes columnist George Bradt argued that this rigidity isn’t the way to go, instead arguing for looser guidelines that take individual situations into account:

Remote work is here to stay. Some were doing it way before COVID. Most white-collar workers had to do it after COVID and were forced to make it work. The savings in commuting time and improvements in work-life balance are compelling. Fighting the shift to remote is like fighting the tide. The tide and remote work are going to win. Stop fighting the shift. Policies won’t work.

Instead, get your people aligned around the organization’s mission, vision, and values. Co-create a set of principles to make those values actionable. Then co-create a set of guidelines for in-office and remote work in line with those principles and embed them in your culture.

It sounds like basic enough advice, but it’s true — at the end of the day, it’s about clear communication based on organizational values. When you have that pinned down, you’re much more likely to communicate in a successful manner, particularly about remote work. No matter where your employees are physically located, it’s an organization’s job to make sure that everyone’s values are aligned.

3. Strategies for lowering employee stress

A stressed-out employee isn’t going to be an effective one. Unfortunately, a recent Gallup survey shows that employees are as stressed as they’ve ever been about work.

According to SHRM:

Gallup’s 2023 “State of the Global Workplace” poll found that 44 percent of workers said they experienced “a lot of stress” the previous day—matching the recorded high in 2021. While the survey did not ask about specific stressors, the report noted that external factors such as inflation and family health contribute to daily stress. A more significant factor, though, could be an employees’ supervisor.

“Many factors influence stress,” the report read, “but Gallup finds that managers play an outsized role in the stress workers feel on the job, which influences their daily stress overall.”

Well, that’s not ideal to say the least. But what can we do about it? There are  a few tactics that employers can deploy to ease stress, but none may be greater than listening to your employees. Be aware of what employees are going through at work. That way, you know what tools to rely on to remedy the issues at hand.

4. How about some good news?

Have a great weekend comms all-stars!

Sean Devlin is an editor at Ragan Communications. In his spare time he enjoys Philly sports, a good pint and ’90s trivia night.


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