Loneliness in the workplace
May 10th, 2022
In our Diversity and Inclusion Series we look at how to create a full inclusive working environment. Diversity and Inclusion data sets are well documented in the data, analytics and tech industries, however there is still some way for the industry to go.
Next generation diversity looks at dissolving boundaries beyond gender and ethnicity. It goes beyond visible diversity and brings in diversity of thought, whether that be through gender, ethnicity, socio-economic backgrounds, disabilities (hidden or seen) or neurodiversity. Here we take a look at how to create fully inclusive working environments so that once you have attracted the talent that you need to help your business improve and grow, you then retain them.
According to SurveyMonkey, 26% of employees don’t feel like they belong at their current company. No company wants to have a culture where not every employee feels like they can thrive, but it’s hard to address problems when you don’t know they exist. Without a way to measure inclusion, executives and HR teams have to rely on their own subjective perceptions of the culture at their organisation, with varied levels of accuracy.
The issue of inclusivity is rooted in employee experiences. To help you create the best experiences for your employees, at KDR we recommend taking a four-step approach: Collect, Analyse, Process and Communicate.
During the Collecting phase it is important to benchmark where you are starting from. The types of activities you would consider during this time are running surveys and measuring data such as hiring data, retention figures and promotions for all employee demographics. Asking about race, gender and sexual orientation can feel personal and invasive, however research by the Census Bureau in the US found that people are no more likely to skip these types of questions than any other.
Once you know where you are starting from, surveys are also an important way to understand how your employees feel about working in your business and what needs to be done to promote a more inclusive working environment. Diversity is all about variety and inclusion then provides the foundation for supporting everyone’s needs within the business. If everyone feels that they belong and they feel empowered to make mistakes and develop professionally, everyone will thrive. If the opposite is true then your retention figures will suffer and you may struggle to attract new talent.
To address Diversity and Inclusion in the data, analytics and tech industries, other areas to look at within the survey would be questions around employee attitudes, pay gaps, culture, and mindset (fixed or otherwise). Fixed mindset questions might seem out of whack with the other areas however it has been proven that a culture where managers believe that their employees have a certain amount of talent (or employees believe that their managers think they only have a certain amount of talent) and they can’t do much to fix it prevents feelings of belonging and growth. In the US nearly 28% of black and Latinx employees v’s 17% of white workers believe that their company has a culture like this. This plays a major part in defining employee experience and therefore retention and engagement figures.
What are your burnout and turnover rates? Perception v’s reality again is important here. If employees feel that the turnover is high and burnout is also prevalent when your HR are figures show different then you may need to potentially look at your mental wellbeing programmes and communicate these more clearly.
Once you have collected the data and understood where you are at and where you need to improve, you can move on to the process phase where you will be setting up structures and processes to help foster a more inclusive culture internally.
Essentially the goal here lies in creating a place where everyone is treated equitably, has equal access to resources and opportunities and can contribute fully to the organisation’s success. Open discussions around appropriate behaviour in the workplace will help to reduce or eliminate some of the highlighted challenges listed below.
Behaviours to be aware of and suggested solutions:
Microagressions: If someone already feels different from the majority, micro-aggressions can be particularly damaging, but what are they? Some examples would be doing imitations of accents, making assumptions about someone based on country of origin, mistaking someone for someone else of the same race, asking someone to speak on behalf of everyone from their racial/social/identified group, casual (non-consensual) touching.
What to do.
To prevent bias creeping into your team behaviours, establish processes that prevent the behaviour from occurring. Make sure you think about all aspects of an employee experience. Look at areas such as:
Learning and Development
Learning and development opportunities are an area where, without proper structure, bias and favouritism can creep in. It is important to have a set process for learning and development to ensure fair access across the board.
What structure do your annual reviews take? Are they top down, one-directional or are your conversations ongoing and inclusive where goals are drawn up together?
Are you aware of how the culture is impacting daily activities. Meetings can sometimes be a clear indicator of how included people feel. Create meeting guidelines that encourage everyone to participate.
With regards to disabilities, both visible and hidden, you should be providing reasonable accommodations to both employees and interviewees. Focus conversations around what the needs are rather than why they need them.
Are your off-site locations accessible?
Have you provided noise free areas and private resting rooms. Often open plan offices are not great environments for neurodiverse employees or those needing to adjust a prosthetic, for example.
Create flexibility around hours and location to allow employees to work from home or get to necessary appointments.
Create a culture where staff members do not have to broadcast to their colleagues why they are taking time off.
Anxiety and depression have skyrocketed during the pandemic and thankfully we have got a lot better at openly discussing it. However old taboos still hold weight in some places and employees may feel if they are open about what they are going through they will be judged and passed over for promotion. This prevents them getting the support they need and perpetuates the cycle of unproductivity and presenteeism that has been proven to affect the bottom line. To combat this from happening, communicate regularly with employees around the subject. This normalises mental health and helps everyone feel safe.
Employee Resource Groups:
These are voluntary community groups usually set up by employees and are a fantastic resource to help people feel like they belong. Diversity and Inclusion ERG groups are well documented in the data, analytics and tech industries. They are identity or experienced based hubs for like-minded individuals to meet and discuss issues or to provide support. Many companies have Employee Resource Group programs to empower and support community groups within the business. Employee Resource groups should provide access to wider business support and decision makers. There should be a clear line of communication between the group and leadership to allow them to voice any concerns and solve problems. Having a well thought out ERG programme will advance a respectful and inclusive culture.
What value do ERG’s bring?
They build a sense of community which fosters a sense of belonging. ERG’s also empower people by giving them a collective voice and connection to leadership and decision makers. On a simple level they encourage communication amongst colleagues and on a more complex level they can offer learning and development opportunities through the programmes, the visibility of the participants within the business and the leadership coaching or opportunities that may come out from them. On the flip side, ERG’s are a great resource for businesses, they can offer leaders and policy makers vital information for the wider community needs, help to make product development teams more inclusive (there are plenty of documented products that have been amended once exposed to ERG’s to better serve the audience they are meant for) and provide resource to improve equality and equity.
Once the ERG’s are established businesses should be offering continued support and resources to keep them going, visible and impactful.
It is important to not dictate which resource groups should be set up, who can join and what their impact should be as this is the responsibility of the group. However businesses can provide tools to help them measure their success: documentation, purpose workshops, roadmap templates, budget tracking tools, a platform for communicating with their group and potential joiners of the group as well as wider communication channels to the rest of the business and leadership.
Ideally each group should have an executive sponsor. This shows the organisation that they support the group and someone within a leadership position such as this will provide important mentorship and visibility for the group. Ideally it should be someone who can provide this support but without taking over.
What kinds of groups exist in other organisations?
Typically the kinds of groups that are set up centre around:
We found a really good quote to sum up this section and it comes from The Chief Diversity Officer of Zoom Video Communications. He says “Start by having a conversation. Start with empathy. Start by trying to think about what it might feel like to be an outsider. What might it feel like to be new to a company. Drive that conversation across the company.”
Communication around diversity and inclusion in the data industries is not a one time and done activity. To fully embed this sense of community and belonging into your company culture you need to build a platform where diversity is discussed and where clear activities to create inclusion are visible. Where your company stats are openly shared and your vision and mission for this area is defined and clearly communicated. Lip service will be glaringly obvious so intent and action need to sit side by side. This intent and action should be communicated externally also which will positively support your Employee Value Proposition.
Areas to communicate:
Finally, equity is an important consideration. A business can have diversity and inclusion without equity. If those people from minority groups don’t feel they can speak up about issues affecting them, the whole process is pointless.
We have been conditioned to think that equality is important. However, fostering an equitable workplace, where people are given the level of support they need in order to thrive, ensures everyone has a place at the table.