Exclusive: Stopping the enemy within your organisation

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We are living in a highly polarized ideological environment. Due to natural and artificial cultural biases innate of our realities in 2021, our personal beliefs can play against us when trying to assess how to mitigate the risks of dangerous ideologies affecting our corporate community.

What do I mean by biases?

When we make decisions, we follow all kinds of biases based on our personal experiences, our information diet and our beliefs, whether conscious or not. Without these biases we wouldn’t be able to function properly, as we would not be able to have a healthy and efficient decision-making process.

Sometimes, our biases allow us to make snap gut decisions in a familiar environment – like taking the faster route to work – but sometimes our biases can lead us to act in unsafe ways – like being over-confident in our driving skills.

A community-centred approach to risk management and business resilience must consider the cultural factors that can directly affect the corporate community.

First, how do we identify dangerous ideologies?

We all respond to a series of beliefs about the universe, ethics, history and all aspects of human endeavours. Some of those beliefs are conscious and fact-based; others are emotional responses to the realities in front of us.

The key difference between a dangerous ideology and any other core sets of beliefs is that ideologies usually provide an all-encompassing Theory of Everything, a paranoid-infused “Us vs. Them” mentality.

During the early stages of the current pandemic, misinformation mixed with fear and uncertainty created a breeding ground for fringe ideologies in the mainstream. News outlets and algorithm-based social media networks created an echo-chamber for fear-based information, in which individuals were exposed to extreme ideas with a strong confirmation bias. These are artificial biases that exacerbated the misinformation crisis.

Paranoia is an established risk indicator for terrorism and also for workplace violence. Employees who are convinced that their co-workers, supervisors or their organisation present an imminent risk or are associated to “Them”, may act preemptively to protect themselves or others they believe are in danger.

Workplace debates about ideologies often include mention of genders, races or religions or employee’s views on hot-button social issues such as abortion, family values, immigration and healthcare, which often are polarizing issues. The potential for heated disagreements, bullying and disenfranchisement is obvious. 

But it is not always obvious who harbours these ideals. A concerned parent may be compelled to look up online in their free time about the risks of vaccinating their children and due to the algorithms of Facebook could be force-fed anti-vaccine propaganda. This can make them resist getting vaccinated themselves or their families and that could severely hinder their ability to be productive in the community.  

What can we do from the leadership of the organisation to mitigate these risks in the work environment?

Have clear and even-handed protocols of what is accepted in the workplace

The rights to freedom of speech do not apply to workplace and best practices protocols. Although employees may be entitled to express their views freely on their own time, they have no such wide-ranging constitutional rights at work. It is important that the company does not align themselves with any particular ideology or that it is perceived as censoring a particular ideology, but that it regulates equally for all worldviews.

Create a well-defined organisational culture

Organisational culture is the sum of the basic assumptions held by a corporate community. These assumptions are a mix of values, beliefs, meanings and expectations that group members hold in common and that they use as cues to what is considered acceptable behaviour and how to solve problems. The stronger the organisational culture is, the stronger the corporate community is.

An organisation that has a health-focused culture enhances employee wellbeing, job satisfaction and organisational commitment. A work culture with social support also enhances employee wellbeing by providing a positive environment for employees who may be experiencing psychological conditions such as depression and anxiety that can be easily targeted and radicalised.

Ensure workplace psychological safety

Workplace psychological safety is demonstrated when employees feel able to put themselves on the line, ask questions, seek feedback, report mistakes and problems, or propose a new idea without fearing negative consequences to themselves, their job or their career. A psychologically safe and healthy workplace actively promotes emotional wellbeing among employees while taking all reasonable steps to minimise threats to employee mental health.

By tackling the root of the problem and engaging the corporate community, we can prevent these ideologies from finding a safe harbour in individuals who are feeling vulnerable, while also reducing the risk of workplace violence and liabilities.

More than ever, organisations must take their role in their communities seriously. These are strange times and the psychological effects of a crisis can have a more lasting and pernicious effect than the crisis itself. To ensure business continuity and resilience, we must address the enemy within without alienating those who have been manipulated by it. 

Peter Bäckman

By Peter Bäckman, Security Director, INICIA

You can connect with Peter on LinkedIn here

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