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How to Build a More Inclusive Work Environment

Many companies fall short on the “inclusion” component of DEI, which is a significant problem. When employees don’t feel a sense of belonging at work, they’re less engaged, less productive, and more likely to leave. Fortunately, there are numerous strategies that can help foster a more inclusive work environment.

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DEI — shorthand for diversity, equity, and inclusion — has become a major priority for HR leaders over the past few years. American companies spend $8 billion annually on diversity training, and a 2021 survey by Workable of 800 business and HR professionals found that nearly two-thirds of respondents had DEI initiatives in place.

These programs are designed to attract top applicants from a diverse talent pool and level the proverbial playing field to give everyone an equal opportunity for success.

But there’s one problem: Far too many companies fall short on the “inclusion” component of DEI. According to a recent McKinsey survey, more than half of employees who left jobs within the past six months said they lacked a sense of belonging at work. Considering it can cost up to nine months’ worth of a departing employee’s salary to replace them, it behooves companies to take a closer look at what they can do to build a more inclusive work environment.

Why Inclusion and Belonging in the Workplace Are Good for Business

Companies that foster an inclusive work environment can see big benefits to their bottom line. According to a Gallup analysis, companies with engaged employees are 22% more profitable because a sense of belonging plays a fundamental role in the employee experience.

As the Harvard Business Review reports, “high belonging” is linked to:

  • A 56% boost in job performance.
  • A 50% decrease in turnover risk.
  • A 75% reduction in sick days.

For a company with 10,000 employees, this can amount to more than $52 million in annual savings.

What’s more, companies committed to creating a sense of belonging in the workplace can improve the overall quality of life for their employees. According to an EY survey of 1,000 American workers, 34% of employees feel their greatest sense of belonging at work. In other words,  the workplace can provide a more important source of acceptance and validation than physical neighborhoods and even places of worship.

Fostering a sense of belonging in the workplace, then, is a win-win. But how exactly do you do it?

How to Create a Sense of Belonging at Work

One of the biggest things to remember is that each person’s sense of belonging is unique to them. What makes one employee feel welcome could make another feel excluded.

To that end, it’s important for leadership to take an equitable approach toward meeting individuals’ needs. That means understanding what requirements related to ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical or mental disabilities, age, and religion are necessary to ensure everyone has the same opportunities to succeed.

That entails active listening — taking in both employee pride points and pain points. The goal should be enabling individuals to feel heard in both 1-on-1 and group environments, and then using that feedback to improve experiences across the board.

From a team perspective, this might mean:

  • Educating employees on diversity topics like microaggressions and inclusive language.
  • Coaching team leaders on what it means to be an ally.
  • Actively seeking input from quieter teammates.
  • Creating informal and open channels for employees to ask questions and give kudos.
  • Making a point to connect with employees and colleagues offline to ensure nobody is forgotten.

These strategies can help workers navigate sometimes-tricky situations while also shaping their own version of change — especially when the status quo doesn’t work for everyone.

In addition to working toward an authentically open team dynamic, companies can offer certain benefits to build an inclusive environment at work. For example, adding Paytient to a benefits package empowers employees to pay out-of-pocket medical expenses for themselves and their loved ones with no hassle, no interest, and no questions asked. By improving access to vital services for everyone, companies can promote a more equitable experience and drive deeper engagement.

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