Employee engagement is an issue that has long plagued employers, and no one company has yet identified a solution that will work for all. Despite this, recent research has found that diversity among employees often goes hand-in-hand with improved employee engagement.
Diversity is so much more than hitting quotas of employees with certain demographic characteristics. It is a driver of your company’s success. For example:
# a Gallup study found gender diversity predicted the financial success of business units in different companies.
# a McKinsey study found companies in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity in management were 35% more likely to have financial returns above their industry mean.
Similarly, employee engagement is important to your organization’s health.
# disengaged employees cost American companies an estimated $480-$600 billion a year in lost productivity.
# highly disengaged employees, which make up about 17% of the workforce, undermine the productivity of their colleagues in addition to having lower productivity themselves.
Diversity and engagement together are a powerful combination. Consider:
# the combination of employee engagement and gender diversity results in 46% to 58% higher financial performance for business units with above average engagement and gender diversity.
If you’re considering employee engagement without considering workplace diversity, you’re only considering part of the picture. To significantly improve employee engagement requires examining diversity and inclusion at your company, too.
Trust: The Secret Ingredient
What accounts for the relationship between diversity and employee engagement? In a word: trust.
Researchers have found that trust accounts for a large part of the relationship between diversity practices and employee engagement. Put another way, if employees do not trust their managers or their company, diversity alone will not increase employee engagement. But when trust is added to the equation, employee engagement improves.
Trust is like yeast. The raw ingredients of flour, oil and water alone are not enough to create something from dough; it takes yeast to make the dough rise and form bread. Similarly, diversity practices will not be able to improve employee engagement without trust.
Building trust with your employees requires going beyond diversity practices to true inclusion for all employees at your company. Recruitment practices that target minority groups are not enough; rather, diversity and inclusion must be baked in to the entire organization and the entire employee lifecycle, for all employees.
Think of it this way: diversity is about who you hire, and inclusion is about a culture of trust and valuing employees. Gallup research has found that the elements most strongly connected to employee perceptions of inclusivity are that someone “cares about me as a person” and “my opinions seem to count.”
Reaping the benefits of diversity at your company requires building a culture of trust and inclusion.
Promoting Diversity and Inclusion in Your Workplace
So how can your company promote diversity and inclusion at your workplace? Again, remember that inclusivity is about meeting all your employees’ needs and making them feel valued. Everyone needs to feel truly welcomed, appreciated and safe in their workplace.
This will look different in every company, but broadly, inclusion initiatives encompass:
# Workplace flexibility. Are modified work schedules an option to suit employees’ needs where appropriate? Are employees able to work from home, or bring their children into work occasionally if childcare isn’t available?
# The physical space. Are people with physical impairments, such as visual or mobility impairments, accommodated in the physical layout of the workplace and in the tools they use to work?
# Health and wellness programs. Is employee wellness taken seriously, or are employees regularly exposed to conditions that put their health at risk? Do managers take care not to contribute to employee burnout?
# Does company leadership demonstrate, in word and deed, the importance of inclusion and wellness at the office? Do employees from different religious or cultural backgrounds feel they can celebrate and share their religious or cultural practices? Are different perspectives, communication styles, and ways of working perceived as valid or nuisances?
# HR practices. Are there plans and protocols in place for when employees disclose a pregnancy, a chronic condition or illness, an ill family member, or other major life events? Are accommodations provided equitably among employees?
As you can see, this type of inclusion extends far beyond the realm of HR. It requires all departments and all levels of management to make a company truly inclusive. There are no ways to cut corners around this: if the point is to build a workplace where all employees feel supported and able to trust their managers, then all managers in the company need to take inclusivity seriously.
If your company has an employee engagement problem, consider examining how diverse and inclusive it is. By building trust through inclusivity, you could boost your employee engagement significantly, ultimately leading to a happier, more productive workplace.
Chris is an active participant in the talent management community bringing over 18 years of experience to BirdDogHR. He has presented at numerous industry events and has been quoted as an industry expert in leading publications like Talent Management magazine, CLO magazine, CEOWOLRD magazine, New Talent Times, TLNT, and HR Bartender.