Expanding the Circle of Inclusion: A Path to Better Retention

Today, five generations co-exist in the workplace, with millennials and Gen Z making up two of the most racially and ethnically diverse generations in U.S. history. A Pew Research study shows that 62 percent of Gen Z see increased diversity as being good for society. That forward thinking has transformed society’s perspective on what identity means. Companies sticking to rigid definitions, outdated processes, or stale efforts are losing talent, and the companies best positioned to attract top talent have strong diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) programs in place. DE&I momentum is stronger than ever, and employees are not hesitating to leave an organization if its efforts fall flat or if employees don’t feel its values align with today’s inclusion standards. 

 A sense of belonging is a critical component of DE&I programs. Belonging in the workplace is an employee’s sense that their unique qualities are accepted and even treasured. Establishing a sense of belonging stems from daily interactions and experiences that let employees feel safe to bring their authentic selves to work. Traditional workplace norms are rapidly evolving, and companies need to consider how a sense of belonging and awareness of generational influences can drive better employee satisfaction and talent retention.

Companies earn deeper trust and a higher level of commitment from employees when they prioritize DE&I and expand the circle of inclusion. Diverse workforces lead to more innovation as creative, cross-cultural thinking generates new ideas. Further, having a team that represents marginalized groups can give you insight into better serving those populations. What was once considered the standard is no longer enough—and the bar continues to be raised. Here are key strategies for becoming a leader in today’s modern DE&I landscape.

Redefining corporate culture standards

 You can’t implement a DE&I program only in title and consider that box checked. Companies focused on growth through talent acquisition, advancement, and retention need to remember the importance of prioritizing belonging. Research shows that workplaces where employees feel a sense of belonging see a 56 percent increase in job performance, 50 percent reduction in turnover risk, and 75 percent decrease in employee sick days. Companies must create a safe space for employees to voice their opinions and, more importantly, feel heard. Providing the opportunity for employees to come together for open, respectful dialogue around sensitive topics, such as a session dedicated to Black History or Hispanic Heritage Month, is one way leaders can foster a sense of belonging. This can be done in person or virtually. Establishing environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) and employee resource groups (ERGs) enable employees to align their career paths with their personal values, improving their sense of belonging within an organization while helping them make a difference in DE&I. Some companies are adding ESG initiatives and related benefits to their total benefits packages, while others are encouraging ERGs to bring together employees with shared life experiences. Some companies are even financially compensating ERG leaders because they know the value ERGs bring to the organization.

 Turn up the volume on active listening

 To successfully lead a company in today’s landscape, leaders need to listen to their employees. Empathetic communication is a two-way street, and the best learners are the best listeners. As it stands, 63 percent of employees feel their voice has been ignored, and 34 percent would rather quit than voice their true concerns. Leaders must both recognize and understand their employees, especially as the concept of inclusion and belonging continues to evolve. Setting up opportunities for employees to provide anonymous feedback, such as through an anonymous company inbox, can help leadership better evaluate employee satisfaction with the current protocols. Every employee has their own background and perspective. As such, some might feel more confident in voicing their opinions than others, but all opinions matter. Leaders who listen signal to employees that the workplace culture is open to learning, changing, and expanding. To keep communication a two-way street, our team has found it beneficial to also provide anonymous feedback to employees in an attempt to ensure every voice is heard. 

 Give everyone a seat at the table

Think of stakeholders like shareholders. Shareholders receive in-depth information and detailed earnings reports on a regular basis, not to mention dividend checks.An unsatisfied shareholder can shake up the boardroom with a few stock moves. Employees, or rather the company’s stakeholders, should be treated with the same sort of attention. After all, a disgruntled or unappreciated employee can directly impact morale. At Newfront, every employee is an equity stakeholder. This level of commitment to our employees communicates the value we assign to their work and sets a precedent for future action. Offering incentives outside of the standard benefits employees come to expect demonstrates a company’s investment in its employees and can directly impact an employee’s commitment to their workplace. Many companies now offer a range of benefit options, allowing employees to craft a package that best suits their needs and preferences. Flexibility can extend to work schedules. For example, more companies are considering 4-day work weeks as a growing body of data suggests that such schedules improve productivity and lessen the likelihood of burnout.

Educate yourself on generational differences and inspire connection

Connected teams drive collaboration, nurture healthy professional relationships, and promote knowledge-sharing. But, in today’s landscape, there’s a merging of multiple generations with different social norms, as well as virtual employees who are geographically divided. Foster personal connection by creating opportunities for cross-collaboration, whether in person or online. It can be easy for people to find their core group of co-workers and stay complacent, only interacting with this comfortable group. While workplace relationships are critical for employee happiness, leadership must do its best to discourage internal “cliques” and provide ample opportunity for collaboration regardless of department, position, or location. Pop-up coffee meetings scheduled through Slack or arranging “buddy” systems  broaden each employee’s individual network of internal connections within the organization.

 Understand how to adapt to today’s landscape and embrace change

 While it’s important to approach sensitive situations with empathy and transparency, how a company handles disruptive events can directly affect an employee’s sense of value and belonging to the company. RIFs happen, but it’s important to be transparent about why and to act as a resource for those who are losing their positions—or else you risk losing your remaining top performers. Making employees wait to find out if they are laid off via email, suddenly locking them out of their VPN, or announcing mass layoffs via Zoom is impersonal and makes employees feel devalued. Treat people like humans throughout the process, with compassion and empathy from start to finish. Without this human lens, organizations develop a negative reputation both internally and externally. While it’s important to focus on how to deliver the news and facilitate the process, don’t forget about the remaining employees who are closely watching how the situation is handled. It’s best to communicate one-on-one, whether in-person or virtually. With my team, I encourage an open dialogue and ask them to come to our meetings prepared to ask any and all questions. Giving my team a safe place to speak fosters a trusting relationship from both sides.

The Author
Angie Lopez-Frazier

Vice President & Director of Client Services at Newfront

Angie Lopez-Frazier is the Director of Client Services in the Emerging Markets segment and has been in the employee benefits and insurance industry for more than 18 years, 11 of which have been with Newfront. She is responsible for the team’s overall service delivery, and for training and mentoring the company’s benefit consultants and client managers to ensure client retention and satisfaction. Angie is a DE&I champion and founder of HOLA, Newfront’s Latinx employer resource group. She also serves as the vice chair for the company’s DE&I Council. She believes that a diverse and inclusive workplace earns deeper trust and more commitment from employees, and she is deeply committed to this journey.

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