Q&A: Should leaders keep third rail topics out of the workplace?

Tracy Cote, People Ops Advisor to Zenefits
Apr 8, 2021

Do topics like vaccinations, Black Lives Matter, and fair pay have a place at work? Should conversations about sensitive topics be avoided altogether, or encouraged as part of a healthy workplace culture? In this episode of POPS!, Zenefits Chief People Officer Tracy Cote explains why it’s important to create safe spaces for employees to respectfully […]

Do topics like vaccinations, Black Lives Matter, and fair pay have a place at work? Should conversations about sensitive topics be avoided altogether, or encouraged as part of a healthy workplace culture?

In this episode of POPS!, Zenefits Chief People Officer Tracy Cote explains why it’s important to create safe spaces for employees to respectfully engage in these conversations, and what leaders can learn from them.

In this Q&A episode, you’ll hear: 

  • [00:40-01:08] Why most companies tend to avoid sensitive topics
  • [01:08-01:28] How to allow different voices to be heard and accommodate diverse opinions
  • [01:28-02:10 ] How Zenefits supports employees who want to use their voices
  • [02:11-03:42 ] Why healthy discussions about socio-politcal issues can create more engaged and healthy workplaces

After you listen:

Ask a SMB Workplace Question and get featured on POPS! The People Ops podcast.

POPS Star Bio

Tracy Cote, Chief People Officer at Zenefits, has 20 years of experience in people and HR leadership roles at companies of all sizes. She also enjoyed a gig educating aspiring HR professionals as a professor at San Francisco State University. But it was during one of her first jobs at a local pizza parlor that Tracy developed a passion for small businesses and the symbiotic relationship between “mom and pops” and the communities they serve. When she’s not leading global people to experience programs at Zenefits, Tracy enjoys making her own skincare products using natural ingredients.


Tracy: Should topics like vaccinations, masks, fair pay, Black Lives Matter, and politics be kept from the workplace or does healthy conversation make for a healthier business? 

Didi: Welcome to Pops, the show that shows you how to shift from human resources paperwork to people operations for the new world of work. How? By answering one question at a time.

To help us answer your question, here’s Tracy Cote, Chief People Officer at Zenefits. 

Tracy: The days of pretending our differences don’t exist are over. Avoiding them is easier, especially if you have different points of view within your organization, and that’s the approach most companies take because it’s safe and it’s easy and it’s non-committal. But more and more, the new generation of worker wants to know what does your company stand for?

We might not all be able to work for a nonprofit, but most of us don’t want to work for a company that goes against our own value and belief system. As employers and business leaders, you can do this sensitively in a way that allows different voices to be heard, to accommodate diverse opinions, and to create a safe space for this kind of conversation.

The right thing to do is to acknowledge that people do have different points of view and that as a company that values diversity, you also value diversity of thought. As leaders, some transparency for what you personally stand for is important. For example, at Zenefits, we felt Black Lives Matter was not a political issue, but it was about human rights.

And to further that perspective, we embraced Juneteenth and we brought in speakers and we opened the floor to anyone who wanted to play a part in raising awareness. We also offer civic time off for voting, canvassing, protesting. Our people have a voice and we want them to raise it. As long as people are doing this respectfully and legally and peacefully, it’s their

right and we support that right regardless of their perspective. We don’t insist that everybody join in these conversations because not everybody wants to. They might disagree or it might be emotional or triggering for them. The point is to create a safe place, a variety of forums, and just basically to raise awareness, to connect, to learn, share, and reflect at a level that works for them.

This fosters engagement, deeper relationships, and makes sure that we are not ignoring the major historical and socio-political issues of our time. It brings our employees closer to each other, and it just makes for a healthier workplace. And a healthy workplace is a place where everyone is encouraged to be themselves regardless of their background or their culture or their ethnicity or their orientation.

Our CEO, Jay Fulcher, has spoken out about how regular conversations can help leaders understand how your culture, priorities, and practices impact your employees’ experience. His take, if an issue impacts you inside or outside of the office, it impacts your business. So if we can provide an open and safe forum to discuss issues, we should.

Small businesses should navigate these waters carefully and openly. Don’t be afraid to go there and don’t be afraid to stumble from time to time. Listen to your people. They will guide you. The new workers expect to bring their whole self to work, and as a conscientious employer, it’s up to you to find the right balance and to create an environment of understanding and acceptance.

Sometimes doing the right thing is a lot harder than doing nothing. But I encourage you to take that first step and open the door to having meaningful conversations as you focus on making sure your business is not only diverse, but truly inclusive. 

Didi: Do you have a question for our experts? You can always email me at [email protected] or head on over to  zenefits.com/Pops-podcast for more insights on content for this show and our others. Thanks for listening.

Previous Episodes

Q&A: What costs should I consider in calculating cost per hire?

Catie Grigsby, Senior Product Marketing Manager at TriNet Zenefits
Dec 29, 2022
When you’re putting a lot of resources toward recruitment efforts, it’s important to understand what those costs are to determine only if they are worth the return you’re getting. In this episode, Catie Grigsby, Senior Product Marketing Manager at TriNet Zenefits, shares ways you can calculate cost per hire and ultimately decide if what you’re...

HR Headaches: Do we have to be resigned to resignation?

Nadene Evans, Senior Manager of Organic Growth at Zenefits
Nov 18, 2021
The Great Resignation has been heavy on HR’s mind as of late—and isn’t showing signs of slowing down. Is it time we resign ourselves to it? Nadene Evans, Senior Manager of Organic Growth at Zenefits says no. On a new Q&A episode of POPS!, Nadene shares how to give employees the support they need and...

Q&A: Why short-term loyalty is a good thing

Danny Speros, Director of People Ops, Zenefits
Feb 3, 2022
Once upon a time, people stayed at the same job for most of their career. Now, typical employee tenure has shortened to 4.1 years. What’s changed? And can short-term loyalty be a good thing? Danny Speros, VP of People Operations at Zenefits, dives into these shifts and explains how shorter tenure can help both employees...

About The People Ops Podcast

Every week, we share the decisions, struggles, and successes for keeping up with an evolving workforce and a changing workplace. No matter if you’ve been in HR or are just getting started, this combination of transformational stories with actionable ideas, as well as context on hot issues, keeps you up-to-date while answering the questions you didn’t even know you had.

Oh, and you know what they say about all work and no play? We tossed in a little levity to keep it real. Lessons, answers, and humor: everywhere you listen to podcasts.

Best-in-class remote teams will use best-in-class technology.

Zenefits mobile HR platform makes it easier to communicate with staff, onboarding new hires, pay employees, and manage any HR task from any home office.