How to Strengthen Your Company’s Inclusion Program During Covid-19

Having an inclusive company culture, where employees feel truly valued, is a priority for all successful businesses. But with the global pandemic forcing millions of workers to swap their cubicle for their kitchen table, maintaining an inclusive atmosphere while working from home can be a challenge for employers. Remote working can create communication barriers and feelings of isolation among employees, but also provides an opportunity for co-workers to get to know and even bond with colleagues in new and more personal ways. With the absence of daily interaction in an office setting, it is even more important that businesses prioritize their efforts to foster inclusivity during these extraordinary and unprecedented circumstances.

The benefits of an inclusive culture are great not only for employees, but also for business leaders. Seventy one percent of employees experience some form of exclusion or social isolation at their workplace, and feelings of ostracism can lead to higher turnover for an organization. However, employees who feel included are motivated to work harder for their teams and encouraged to stay with their employer for longer periods. Companies with more engaged employees also have 21% higher profitability than those that do not.

Though most businesses recognize the benefits of inclusivity, finding a way to implement it within an organization is difficult, especially in the current pandemic where employees are working remotely. Businesses should take the following steps when trying to maintain inclusivity in times of crisis:

  • Understand what employees expect from you. Businesses must first understand the priorities of their employees during stressful times and do what they can to make their staff feel supported. For example, 91% of employees say they expect their leaders to be flexible and understanding of personal situations during the pandemic. Taking into account that employees are being forced to juggle many stressful responsibilities from home, and providing them the flexibility to do so, can make them feel included in the company’s decisions.

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  • Check your natural bias. In stressful times, humans tend to snap back to their natural biases and may say or do things that aren’t considered appropriate, since our reasoning systems don’t kick in to check these responses. It is critical that leaders check their bias and be mindful of company policies before interacting with employees, especially when discussing sensitive topics, to ensure they are being heard and understood.
  • Offer stress management. Ethnically diverse employees may not always feel a sense of safety as the minority in a group, particularly during times of crisis. The pandemic, as well as social justice protests, may affect employees, especially those in minority groups in different ways. Employers should offer support, like stress management resources, to provide these workers with a sense of safety.
  • Be willing to educate yourself. Employees don’t always want their leaders to have all of the answers, but rather be willing to educate themselves and have transparent conversations about difficult topics. Leaders should read up on social issues to increase their cultural awareness and be able to speak to employees about these subjects. However, it is crucial that they do so with a high level of emotional intelligence, while being able to listen more and speak less.

While these are concrete actions leaders can take to increase inclusivity, other small gestures can make employees feel cared for during these trying times. When companies increase their sense of awareness, such as by releasing materials focused on diversity and inclusion, it signals to employees that their employer cares about them and understands that each individual’s needs may be different than those of their colleagues.

It is also important that executives in the company show their humanity and remain agile during this time to show employees that everyone is going through this situation together. While leaders should be proactive in managing their teams through daily contact and check-ins, they should also ensure workers are aware of available support from outside resources. This lets employees know that their while their leaders care about their well-being, they are considerate of the fact that not everyone may feel comfortable discussing sensitive topics with those they work with.

Finally, it is important to point out that businesses can turn crises into a sense of purpose for their organization. Whether it be a national health crisis or social change, each crisis is a learning experience and a chance for leaders to gain new insight into the different experiences their employees face. Responding proactively and asking for feedback, instead of pretending the crisis isn’t happening, signals to employees and potential applicants that your organization cares about its people and goes the extra mile in removing barriers to inclusion.

Floss Aggrey

Floss Aggrey
Floss Aggrey is senior director of compliance, diversity and inclusion at Randstad Sourceright.

Floss Aggrey

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