Diversity and inclusion has risen up the agenda over the past year but all too often efforts focus only on recruitment. We asked what more can HR do in earnest to really make employees feel they can bring their whole selves to work?
Questions were answered by panelists: Shubhang Dave, head of people science, EMEA at Glint; Joanne Conway, deputy head of diversity and inclusion at EY UK&I; senior HR consultant Dawn Morton-Young; and Angela O’Connor, CEO and founder of The HR Lounge.
If you could only do one thing in an organisation to improve the sense of belonging, what would it be?
When asked about the one thing they would do in an organisation to improve a sense of belonging, panellists unanimously pointed to communicating with employees as the solution.
“Create opportunities for employees to put their thoughts, opinions and needs forward and put systems in place to tangibly show consideration of these needs/wants/views and implementation of changes as a result of this where possible and according to business need,” said Morton-Young.
Facilitating conversations may sound like a simple thing to do but it can open the door to many important topics, according to Dave. He said: “One way to think about this question is more behaviourally – what can organisations do to promote and cultivate the right behaviours and habits that foster belonging? To that end, an important thing that comes to mind is to create space for and build manager skills around conversations.”
As part of employee conversations, HR should also encourage people to offer diverse and dissenting opinions according to Conway. She said: “Ask what points of view have I not yet considered?”
When listening to employees O’Connor added that it is important not to get hung up on the word “belonging” either. She said: “It won't feel comfortable for everyone or describe the relationship that some staff want with the organisation.”
Speaking with employees is how the panel also suggested overcoming any microaggressions in the workplace.
Dave added: “The key here is to educate and equip on both sides of potentially problematic conversations. Educating 'deliverers' on terms and points of view that can be perceived as microaggressions is one half of the equation and creating a psychologically safe space where recipients feel empowered to speak up and know how to do so in a constructive way is the second.”
Is it different for larger organisations with varied roles?
For belonging, listening to your employees is critical regardless of the size of the organisation and variety of roles, according to Conway. She suggested: “Set up forums and ways of working that ensure each member of the team has a check in to see that they are okay and create an environment where people feel valued and able to contribute their ideas.”
Morton-Young also suggested larger organisations could benefit from actively encouraging more cross-departmental socials and collaboration.
What about start-ups?
In a start-up or scale-up company one of the challenges to belonging is how staff can be divided into two generations – i.e. those that have been there since the company was founded and those who joined later.
Here, Morton-Young said, there are plenty of opportunities to work on culture.
“Have a re-branding initiative, where you invite employees to set out the type of organisation they wish to work for, and then work to design the internal brand you wish to have with updated values, etc,” she said.
The project should include ways to embed this culture, including helping employees understand how the values apply to them and their role.
At times, people may also work for organisations that are not aligned to their values. In this instance, O’Connor said, there are three options. Employees and leaders can choose to use their voice and power to try and alter the values of the organisation. If this is not possible then it becomes a choice between staying, and trying to maintain your own integrity, or leaving if able.
O’Connor said: “Sometimes financial considerations can limit our choices but as soon as people have the option to stay or go they will follow their head and heart and go where they feel appreciated, welcomed and valued for their unique talents.”
And the virtual world?
Through adopting more hybrid practices, where employees are able to work from home more than before, there is now an additional obstacle to organisational belonging.
Concrete actions that show people – regardless of their working terms – that they have the chance to succeed are one of the ways Dave suggested HR overcome this challenge.
“This will become increasingly important as more hybrid models of work – some virtual, some in person – take shape,” he added.
“It’s important organisations invest in the right technologies and leadership behaviours to ensure everyone has an equal chance at feeling a sense of belonging, irrespective of where or how they’re working.”
To hear more of this discussion, you can watch this webinar on demand here.
For more detailed coverage of our most recent HR Lunchtime Debates subscribe to HR magazine – a write up of How can organisations create a sense of belonging in the workplace? appears in the May/June 2021 issue