Talent   //   July 14, 2022

How to cope at work with the overturn of Roe vs. Wade

No matter how you feel about the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling on abortion rights, you’re going to come across people who disagree with you.

Figuring out how to navigate these interactions can be draining, confusing and stressful — especially when they involve your workplace. Add to that a general sense of unease if the ruling means you feel like your rights were quashed, and work can seem unbearable.

The overturn has served as another example of how modern-day workforces are forced to reckon with rapidly evolving societal changes.

To help, five people in guiding, reflective professions gave advice on how to be emotionally and mentally resilient in the wake of the landmark shift, whether your job is remote or you’re shoulder-to-shoulder with co-workers.

Their suggestions for handling various situations have been edited for clarity.

I don’t even know where to start. I feel anxious right now.

The first thing people can do in the workplace is give themselves grace. It’s so incredibly important right now. I think there’s this expectation that people show up and go about their business like it’s any other day. It’s OK to not be OK right now. Feel whatever you’re feeling and know that there are tons of people out there sharing the same sentiment as you. — Jennifer Thompson, MSW, is a social worker and executive director of the New Jersey and Delaware chapters of the National Association of Social Workers

I definitely feel what I feel, and it’s not really fun to feel it. Can I do something constructive with these feelings?

Your mind has the power to maintain even-mindedness, without attachment or aversion. When you don’t have even-mindedness, you’re giving control of your mental state to others. The basic way to develop equanimity is to truly understand and accept your locus of control — which is actually quite limited. I cannot control how others think, feel or act. I can barely control my own thinking and feeling — but I can control how I respond to my thinking and feeling. — Frank Jude Boccio, an interfaith minister, teacher of Zen Buddhism and author of Mindfulness Yoga: The Awakened Union of Breath, Body, and Mind

That makes a lot of sense, but I’m very reactive, which is probably something it’d be good for me to work on. Anything else I can do right now that’ll help?

Make time at least twice a week to immerse yourself in a healing practice. Yoga nidra is an option. Take a social-media fast, even if it’s just for part of the day, and read an inspiring book. Call a friend, go out for tea. — Frank Jude Boccio 

If you work 9 to 5 but tend to stay late, commit to being only 9 to 5 the next two weeks. Use your breaks. Take lunch. That’s so important right now. It’s normal that you feel more tired, that you feel sort of lost. — Jennifer Thompson

Take some time away from work if you need some time. People need space to be able to handle what’s happened. I have to trust that people will do their job, and they trust that I’m going to give them the space they need. — Amy Spurling, founder and CEO of Compt, a Boston-based HR technology company focused on engendering inclusive and equitable employee experiences in workplaces

OK, I’m doing a bit better as far as my own self goes. But I feel uncomfortable around coworkers — and no one has even shared their views.

Work is not a bad place to feel awkward. It might be a way of saying you recognize that there are a lot of power dynamics at play at work. Certainly, the issue of abortion is fraught with power dynamics. Lean into that awkwardness. Maybe you don’t have a complete picture of the people around you. — Beth Silvers, co-host of the Pantsuit Politics podcast and co-author of Now What? How to Move Forward When We’re Divided (About Basically Everything)

If someone is a little short or snippy, chalk it up to what’s going on right now. We can’t act perfectly in every scenario. If you’re a supervisor, encourage the people on your team to have a lot of empathy for each other. Assume everyone has good intentions and operate from that place. — Amy Spurling

I think I want to ask coworkers how they feel about the ruling. Is that a bad idea?

Conversations are fine. If you feel led to share a personal experience, with IVF or pregnancy loss, or you have a family member or friend’s experience that’s relevant or changed your mind — that personalizes any conversation. But coming at it as a debate, with evidentiary-hearing posture, is not going to serve any conversation in the workplace. — Sarah Stewart Holland, co-host of the Pantsuit Politics podcast and co-author of Now What? How to Move Forward When We’re Divided (About Basically Everything)

Understand what your goal is. Particularly at work, you’re not going to have a conversation about abortion that changes someone’s heart. But you can have a conversation that creates a new level of connection. You can see someone with fresh eyes. You can figure out where your own perspective is limited or could become more expansive. — Beth Silvers

What if I feel uncomfortable in a conversation?

Have an exit strategy, and that comes from setting boundaries. It can feel weird and be hard, but it also can save you a lot of frustration, especially as you sift through your own emotions. — Jennifer Thompson

Another skill I should probably work on is setting boundaries. Any advice on how to do that?

Start by framing things from an “I” perspective; instead of “you shouldn’t” say “I feel uncomfortable with this. I would appreciate it if we could keep this work-centric.” Never place blame or condemn anybody. You also have the option to just not respond to emails and to walk away from the conversations, especially if you have challenging relationships or feel you could be retaliated against. It’s OK to say to yourself, “It’s more important for me to keep my job right now.” — Jennifer Thompson

Maybe the best workplace discussions for me are those I’m sure are with people in my camp. I’m just not sure how to make that happen.

Now, maybe more than ever, it’s important that you engage in conversations where you know you’re going to feel safe and protected and supported. If you’re not sure if your colleagues share the same beliefs as you, it’s probably good to assume they don’t. — Jennifer Thompson

People are self-selecting — and having conversations — in Slack channels. They need to feel like they have some community here. The intention is, “I need somebody to support me in this moment.” As an organization [Compt], we are diverse: 63% of us are people of color, 57% are females. We have a lot of different religions. I’m a lesbian and support women’s rights. We skew more left overall, but we certainly could have employees who are pro-life. We understand that we don’t all think the same things or agree on the same things. — Amy Spurling