Company leaders and managers play an important role in creating an inclusive workplace, but what matters most is how colleagues interact with each other, according to new research.
That sense of connectedness comes from day-to-day behaviors among employees, managers, leaders, teams and co-workers. A feeling of belonging creates a workplace where employees feel valued, welcomed and comfortable speaking up to share ideas and opinions, according to the Limeade, an employee engagement company in Bellevue, Wash. Its 2018 Inclusion in Your Workplace report noted that inclusion can lead to business solutions and product and service improvements.
Limeade found that employees ranked peers they see and work with every day as the greatest contributing factor to inclusion, ahead of organizational leaders, department managers and peers on other organizational teams.
According to Gallup, "when employees possess a deep sense of affiliation with their team members, they are driven to take positive actions that benefit the business—actions they may not otherwise even consider if they did not have strong relationships with their co-workers."
In a Gallup survey, only 2 out of 10 U.S. employees strongly agreed that they had a best friend at work, but by moving that ratio to 6 in 10, "organizations could realize 36 percent fewer safety incidents,7 percent more engaged customers and 12 percent higher profit," Gallup said.
What happens often, though—especially in HR—"is we tend to think about these kinds of meaningful topics as 'programs,' " said Laura Hamill, Ph.D., chief people officer and chief science officer at Limeade. "[Inclusiveness is] so much more than a program, a website or a press release."
Inclusiveness has to be practiced in small, everyday actions, such as recognizing new ideas and helping your team members know each other better, Hamill said.
"It could be as simple as starting a conference call by asking what everyone did that weekend. Or if you get kudos on a big project, make sure to recognize the teammates that contributed or supported you," Hamill said. "At Limeade we invite all genders to our Women in the Workplace meetings, and a handful of them attend every time. It's heartening to see people take time out of their day to understand those who are different than themselves."
[SHRM members-only resource: Your Culture Shapes What Your Business Becomes]
There's no question that leaders are important to creating an inclusive culture—such as by calling out acts of both subtle and overt exclusion, inviting different voices to raise a point of view that differs from the majority and letting them feel safe in doing so, said Juliet Bourke.
She is a partner at Deloitte in Sydney, where she is a national leader of Deloitte's diversity and inclusion consulting practice. She is a TEDx speaker and the author of Which Two Heads Are Better Than One? How Diverse Teams Create Breakthrough Ideas and Make Smarter Decisions (Australian Institute of Company Directors, 2017).
Organizational policies, processes and practices also help drive inclusion, but "an overlooked area has been the degree to which team members are encouraged to behave—and held to account for behaving—inclusively toward each other," Bourke said.
It starts with small acts of fairness and respect.
How to Spark Connections
Many organizations focus much of their attention on their diversity-hiring metrics, but often nothing happens once those individuals are hired, Hamill said.
"The culture they come into … doesn't feel like a place where they are listened to, acknowledged and respected. There are a lot of great intentions, but the way that the culture plays out is not a place where people want to continue to work."
Limeade's research shows that organizations can help every employee build a more inclusive mindset and habits by creating more ways for employees to engage collaboratively and one-on-one. Here are some examples:
- Educating employees on the importance of inclusiveness. Clarify why it is important to the organization so leaders, managers and employees can put an inclusive strategy into action.
Not only can inclusion decrease turnover and boost morale, but Deloitte found that an inclusive organization is twice as likely to exceed financial targets, three times as likely to be high-performing, six times more likely to be agile and innovative, and eight times more likely to achieve better business outcomes.
- Creating a sense of belonging. Give current and new co-workers an opportunity to meet over lunch, and encourage bonding among new workers and their colleagues.
Limeade started "random lunches." Employees can sign up to be paired for a lunch date to get to know someone they don't normally interact with at work, Hamill said. Remote workers can take advantage of a virtual meet-up.
"It's created more empathy … [and] it's fun energy."
Affinity and employee resource groups also can create a sense of community and help new hires transition into the organization, said Julie Li, senior director of people operations at Namely.
Storytelling also is a powerful tool. Forging connections and understanding of one another can be as simple as asking team members to bring to a meeting a picture of themselves as a child, Hamill suggested.
- Collaborating, such as on a cross-functional project or a meeting between teams.
- Letting employees know they are valued. People will leave if they don't think they are appreciated, according to Hamill. Bourke recalled a CEO who went around to team members during an offsite event and told each person what unique capabilities and perspective they brought to the group.
There's much employers can do to make employee experiences meaningful, but be sure your actions support your intent so that the event doesn't become just another party or happy hour, Hamill advised.
"What's the meaning we're trying to create around this—that they're creating with each other? This concept of inclusion is related to other concepts we talk about in HR. … It's important to start thinking about it from the employee's perspective and the employee experience."