Restoration After a Strike or Labor Event


Organizations have faced a plethora of difficult decisions, mounting pressures, and chronic stress. Some are tragically spiraling downward. One of the outcomes of these spirals is labor strikes. Therefore, we need ways forward. Organizations need to have a plan in place when it comes to these labor events. Strike contingency planning is a process for ensuring business continuity if your employees decide to strike, and it's equally essential to be prepared and able to restore and heal a company after a strike.


On Friday, July 16, 1999, three individuals died tragically, including John F. Kennedy Jr. The details surrounding their deaths over the years have become clearer. The plane descended into what is called the ‘graveyard spiral.’ This is a rare but tragic occurrence when a pilot cannot see the horizon and becomes disoriented (Lindsey, Walsh, and York, 1999).    

Typically, this is corrected or managed by the pilot. If a pilot leaves the wings out of balance, the plane begins at first to descend slowly and thus begins the spiral. With the horizon and under normal circumstances, this is easily corrected. When JFK Jr was flying, the night sky and the weather made the horizon unclear. He likely left it uncorrected for too long. The plane began to increase the descent speed, and the rest is history.   

When pilots notice the altitude is dropping more rapidly, they tend to pull up, which only makes the plane descend faster. This kind of corrective action makes things worse with tragic consequences. Below, we'll cover some of the ways a company can prepare and plan for restoration after a strike.

Why Do we Need Reconciliation Efforts After a Labor Event?

It's essential to all organizations that they be proactive, rather than reactive to maintain positive employee relations and manage successful day-to-day operations. An event like a strike or a picket or protest can happen in any sort of workplace environment, whether unionized or not. As mentioned above, you need to have a strike contingency plan in place should any form of work stoppage occur. However, this sort of planning doesn't fully prepare you for what's to come after the strike or labor event is over. 

In order to have business restoration after a strike, every organization needs to have a plan for what to do to build back trust and relationships with employees and managers or supervisors. There needs to be regular communication and feedback that focuses on healing the company after a strike. This sort of event can have lasting negative impacts and lead to a serious decrease in company morale. Restorative practices after a labor event allow companies to engage with their workforce, address these issues, and provide the opportunity to build back what was lost.

Pre-Labor Event Planning and Considerations 

This first category applies to every organization everywhere, all the time. The labor strike is the nuclear option for collective bargaining, and the effects reverberate through the organization and the community. Before an organization reaches this precipice, some precursors often can be attended to by the organization. 

When there is an erosion of organizational trust, there are often holes in the ship which begin to let in water. As the ship is sinking, other reasons may rise to the surface. These may be things like hours, staffing, or compensation. Likely, the core trust was lost before these other issues became vocalized. 

There are three actions organizations and leaders can adopt to build trust. Additionally, there are several expectations to keep in mind. It is first important to build positive relationships within each person’s sphere of influence (Zenger and Folkman, 2019). We have more trust in people we know. Therefore, leaders and, by extension, managers have to allot time to get to know employees, which requires dedicated time to listen to them. Employees want to be treated as humans with aspirations and sufferings. The quickest way to do so is to have human moments with them, moments to inquire and listen.   

Another action is demonstrating expertise and judgment (Zenger and Folkman, 2019). We put our trust in the hands of those we believe to be capable. The development of leaders is essential. Leaders need time with other leaders to lean on and learn from them.   

The final action to building trust is being consistent (Zenger and Folkman, 2019). Often, there is pressure to be impressive, especially in leadership. Even more so, when an organization faces significant challenges, this desire to be impressive comes at the detriment of consistency. Bold declarations or promises draw attention, but over time they diminish trust.     

Employee trust in organizations in specific sectors seems to be eroding. If this organizational trust erodes, employees may look to other organizations or other areas where they can put their trust.   

Attention has been given to employees and the shifting dynamics around resignations, during the current state of "The Great Resignation." However, every resignation is not the same, so there is essential importance for organizations to understand why a person is leaving a position. It is worth considering that many of the resignations occurring in the last 12 months are a form of strike. The person is doing so as an individual, not as a collective undertaking. By leaving permanently, they are declaring they do not have trust in the organization. 

Considerations During a Labor Strike 

The psychologist, Carl Jung, observed a fundamental principle about humans. He said, “people don’t have ideas, ideas have people.” (Jung, 1959). When we are gripped by certain ideas, almost any behavior can be justified. Within the context of labor events, this can have multiple manifestations. For instance, in the minds of nurses, a strike can be justified, even if there are negative effects on patient care (Gafni-Lachter, Admi, Eilon, & Lachter, 2017). Patient care could readily be described as the pulse of the profession, but even the most valued goal can be subsumed in a time of crisis. 

In mid-event, it is especially important to be accurate in diagnosing problems within an organization. In the context of a labor event, such as a strike, most people in an organization can more readily identify issues with others than in themselves, which makes diagnosing difficult. There can also be a negativity bias, in that events and interactions between people are interpreted in the most negative manner. Navigating these challenges requires organizational triage.

This kind of triage is difficult. It requires humility from different people and a relentless commitment to the truth, without exaggeration or minimization. What often takes the place of this work is the focus of getting employees back to work (rightfully so). However, a long-term approach is required. Trust is built back one conversation, one relationship at a time. Behind the scenes, there should be organizational introspection about how to restore the organization. This introspection is essential to have business restoration after a strike occurs.

There should be a significant focus on the well-being of leaders during this time, especially if the event is longer than a week. Almost every human emotion is on the table for employees, managers, and leadership. Additionally, a sense of betrayal is often common for leaders. For leaders, there should be time dedicated to unpacking the demands of interpersonal struggles with emphasis on healing the harm that is being done to relationships. 

If addressed effectively, the spiral of a labor strike can pave the way for more honest and charitable dialogue within an organization, and improved communication between managers can occur. This is especially true when action is taken in the midst of a strike. Vulnerable moments can turn towards connection and resiliency when it is needed most.  

Healing the company after a strike

What to Expect During Post-Strike Reconciliation Efforts

After an event, it is essential to consider the framework an organization uses to move forward. In order to have restoration after a strike, planning to move forward is a critical step. Below is one such model.   

Reinhold Niebuhr is widely credited with what is commonly referred to as the Serenity Prayer. It goes as follows, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Regardless of one’s religious beliefs, there is a lot of guidance in these words, which is why you have likely encountered them previously. Organizations, leaders, and people within organizations would benefit greatly by adopting these truths.   

First, there are elements within every workplace that are unchangeable and therefore need acceptance. This includes trends nationally, regionally, or other factors. The preeminent example of this is the pandemic itself, and we cannot change the reality of it.   

Second, every employee needs to exercise the courage to change and improve their spheres of influence. This means advocating within the organizational structures in place. How can we ignite courage within the workforce to address issues within the organizational structures? How can managers reengage employees and converse with them? These conversations will inevitably require courage.   

Thirdly, we need the wisdom to know the difference between these two, or we are likely to be left with forms of bitterness, resentment, and exhaustion. We also need the wisdom to know the timeline of how things change. As leaders, at times, we need to move quickly to make and manage necessary changes. As employees, we have to seek to operate within organizational structures to effect change.  

Why It's Best to Enlist Third-Party to Guide the Process

Every component of a strike provides an opportunity to optimize the power of healing and reconciliation. In the pre-event, shoring up trust can be effectively addressed in small group listening sessions on a peer-to-peer level. This is best accomplished by enlisting a third party to guide the process. Confidentiality is ensured, and a safe environment opens the door for a deeper understanding of how and why trust has been broken. Many times, brokenness is when light shines in, and peers lean into their compassion for one another. Through sharing their stories, healing can begin, and relationships can be strengthened. 

Think of the mid-event time as an opportunity for leaders to keep the wings balanced in the organization. How the time during is addressed will likely indicate the resiliency of the leaders and their ability to weather the storm. This can pave the way to restoration after a strike. Knowing leaders will attempt to resolve issues for everyone else, one-on-one meetings with a third party allow leaders to lay their own emotions on the table. This intimate dialogue holds the promise of safety, healing, and attentiveness to their well-being. The more grounded leaders feel, the more confidently they will lead the organization.  

Post-strike restorative work

Restoration After a Strike

The ability for an organization to successfully achieve post-strike reconciliation will begin with the acceptance of things impossible to change. The reality is that people took sides, negative rhetoric increased, and moral injury occurred. The adversarial process harmed relationships, many of them deeply. Utilizing the trust built in pre-event sessions, the small groups need to reassemble and draw upon the work done prior to the strike. The guided group sessions will address the emotional toll of a strike, what is needed for healing and how respect and trust can return to their relationships. In the post-event, the most seriously impacted groups will benefit from one-on-one sessions. During these sessions, trust-building rituals will be created, and how to communicate with people “on the other side” will be determined.

A sense of empathy and understanding will be delicately addressed as this will often be triggering and may temporarily increase the fragility of fractured relationships. This approach, albeit sensitive, will eventually increase the opportunities for reconciliation and improved trust. During this time of change and shifting of perceptions and emotions, involvement by senior leadership will send a powerful message that reconciliation is possible. This includes holding town hall meetings, rounding on a regular basis, and supporting the healing process both in words and actions.  

JFK Jr. did have a way forward. On the dial, there is a gauge that shows whether the wings are level or if they are tilted towards a descent. By looking at this gauge, he likely could have redirected the trajectory of the plane to avoid calamity. As organizations, there are ways forward. There are ways of healing a company after a strike. There must be a commitment to unearthing concerns and challenges, especially inconvenient ones. This takes courage. Let it be so!

We're here to help your organization stay prepared. IRI Consultants offers consulting services, including practices for restoration after a strike. We aim to help companies and their employees find solutions to organizational management, relationship-building, and employee engagement strategies. Click here to learn more.


This article is a guest piece co-written by Carol Hutchins, a Labor, Communications and Organizational Development Consultant with IRI Consultants, and Sam Hutchins, an Organizational Development Consultant, also with IRI. They specialize in the practices of planning and restoration after a strike or similar crisis event.

REFERENCES

1. Daryl Lindsey, Joan Walsh, and Anthony York, (1999). Graveyard Spiral. Salon. https://www.salon.com/1999/07/20/reckless_2/

2. Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman (2019). The 3 Elements of Trust. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2019/02/the-3-elements-of-trust?referral=00203

3. Gafni-Lachter, L., Admi, H., Eilon, Y., & Lachter, J. (2017). Improving work conditions through strike: Examination of nurses' attitudes through perceptions of two physician strikes in Israel. Work (Reading, Mass.), 57(2), 205–210. https://doi.org/10.3233/WOR-172560

4. Jung, C. G. (1959). Aion: Researches into the phenomenology of the self, 2nd Ed. In Sir H. Read, M. Fordham, G. Adler, & W. McGuire (Eds.), The collected works of C. G. Jung, Vol. 9 (333 pp.). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press 

About the Author Walter Orechwa

Walter is IRI's Director of Digital Solutions and founder of UnionProof & A Better Leader. As the creator of Union Proof Certification, Walter provides expert advice, highly effective employee communication resources and ongoing learning opportunities for Human Resources and Labor Relations professionals.