Tips: Managing the conflicts of having non-vegan employees in your vegan business
You may have started running your company as a one-person-band, but as your company grows you need to start considering employing other people. Being vegan founded is great, and you probably dream of having a company which consists only of other vegans. The reality is quite different, and you need to accept that early on in your journey. Thinking about this at early stages means you’ll give yourself the time to start planning your employment and HR strategy.
The legal bit
Legally, you cannot stipulate that your employees must be vegan. In fact, you can’t even stipulate that they understand or sympathise with the cause. Often, vegans will be drawn to your company and want to work for you, so the amount of vegan applicants may be over-represented in comparison with the amount of vegans in the general population. Also, non-vegans who actively oppose the cause will not want to work for you anyway, which means you at least won’t have to worry about employees who undermine the work you’re doing and why.
This will leave you with both vegan and non-vegan applicants for employment. You are not allowed to choose only vegan people to work for you. By mere ‘chance’, you may end up with an entirely vegan workforce, but that is quite unlikely when the percentage of vegans are so small, and you are meant to be choosing the best person for the job.
You may flinch at this and say “surely the best person for any job here is going to be a vegan person”. You may even be right on some levels. However, if a vegan was denied employment due to their beliefs, this would be discrimination. Non-vegans are (quite rightly) allowed the same levels of legal protection, and you cannot decide to not employ them because they are not vegan, especially if their skills are better suited to the job than vegan applicants.
Business activism – start from within
You could also consider employing non-vegans as part of your business activism. By incorporating non-vegans into your vegan business environment, they are now exposed daily to viewpoints and ways of thinking that they would never have had the opportunity to ingest otherwise. It’s inevitable that some non-vegans will become vegan themselves in time within this type of environment. Remember – you’re not only trying to help vegans stay vegan, and the world to go vegan; helping your employees to go vegan is much closer to home and much easier than tackling the whole world at once!
We’ve all heard the stories about negative comments and behaviour towards vegans in non-vegan workplaces. In fact, some of it reaches the levels of bullying and harassment.
I know that you find these types of behaviour abhorrent, and you must also ensure that you feel the exact same way about negative comments and behaviour towards non-vegans in the workplace. Even if it goes against your personal beliefs, remember that this is not a personal environment – this is business, and your own behaviour and thought processes must match that. If you don’t already feel that way, you must cultivate those levels of tolerance and kindness, and this must become part of your company values and communicated to all employees as such.
You may find it unsavoury, non-vegan food, talk of meat barbeques at weekend. However, understand that just because non-vegans do not have the same beliefs or understanding that you do, doesn’t mean that they deserve to be treated badly or be told they’re a ‘corpse eater’ (or something similar). Berating or prodding someone into trying to think your way, constantly pointing out what you believe to be their ‘faults’, sending them explicit photos of the realities of intensive farming, all of these types of behaviour push that person into shutdown. And all these are also incredibly unprofessional.
Every decision you make, every behaviour you encourage in your business, all must be about being professional, understanding, kind, and helping the cause. You cannot help the cause by burning down the house, so to speak. Instead, if they ask questions, reply in an educated informative manner; quote facts and figures, send them links to more information (just don’t go straight to activism, that tends to scare people if it’s a first port of call – remember, this is a journey for most people).
Accept that some people are always going to want a bacon sandwich no matter what knowledge they have, or even if they’re an ‘animal lover’. You may not like that. You may not understand it. You may not really want them to work for you if they’re never going to be open to the vegan journey. However, as an employer you absolutely must be able to respect their lifestyle decisions as a personal one. It does not affect their professional ability. You must be able to respect them as an employee, and encourage others to do the same. You must always lead by example.
No discrimination and figuring out the rules
Recently, provision for vegans in workplaces is increasing. This is in forms of separate shelves in the work fridge, separate kitchen preparation areas where possible, alternatives to the non-vegan Friday morning bakery run options, and more. This isn’t every workplace, but employers are slowly being driven towards this in the wish to be inclusive to all employees (or if you’re a pessimist, to avoid legal action).
As a vegan employer, no matter your personal viewpoints on this, you must ensure you do the same for your non-vegan employees. If you have a fridge for vegan food, have a separate fridge for non-vegans. Give them separate marked utensils and preparation areas, even a separate microwave. This should keep everyone happy regarding the likelihood of cross-contamination.
IIf you don’t have the space to be able to do this, you should ask everyone (including vegans) to prepare food at home. Ask everyone to package their food in sealed glass/plastic boxes, and ask them that if everyone does this will they be happy to all share a fridge. Open it to discussion, but make sure everyone understands that it’s a positive discussion with mutual respect and kindness. Ask people what they’re comfortable with and what they’re not. You’re probably not going to be able to please everyone, but people like to be included in these discussions even if they ultimately don’t get what they asked for.
t’s possible that vegans will not want any non-vegan food in the kitchen/eating area, especially if it’s heated. A lot of vegans find the smell of meat very difficult to bear (I have run, arms flailing, through a ‘doom tunnel of meat’ with a scarf over my mouth at a Christmas fair once as the smell was so overpowering!).
However, I think it’s important to remember that avoiding discrimination and aiming for mutual respect doesn’t include segregation. As an employer you should be looking for as much integration as possible, and that includes eating together. This improves team morale, and encourages discussion – especially about food! If you and your vegan employees are bringing in beautiful vegan food, I guarantee you that non-vegans are going to ask about it. They’re possibly even going to ask to taste some, and eventually even ask for recipes. The final assault will be for you to bring in some vegan home baking (I thoroughly recommend the Ms Cupcakes ‘The Naughtiest Vegan Cakes in Town’ cookbook, it’s incredible and astounds all non-vegans!) – my own vegan journey began when sampling a colleague’s fabulous vegan baking.
Lisa Fox says: Be the best example
The vegan journey often starts with food, moves to discussion, and on to education and then sometimes the jump into the vegan (or plant-based) pool. Anything you do regarding non-vegans in your care (and they are in your care as an employee!) should be about showing them what being vegan is all about – kindness and compassion. Make those your company values, lead by example, and you may end up with a full vegan workforce after all.
Have you had to deal with conflicts in your vegan business with non-vegan employees? Tell me how you managed it in the comments below:
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