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How to encourage employees to bring their whole selves to work

When we leave behind an essential piece of equipment (think of your phone, an important document or your laptop), it instantly makes us uncomfortable. Some might say incomplete. Imagine if you had to leave behind a part of your body? It would be physically impossible to do any work!

What if I told you that every day many people experience something similar, albeit less obvious? According to a 2020 report by Indeed, only 46% of Australian employees feel comfortable bringing their true selves to work. That means nearly half the workforce leave behind a part of themselves. Even worse, they harbour feelings that restrict them from achieving a sense of belonging every day. 

This should concern leaders because it’s no secret that finding joy, meaning and purpose at work is directly linked to productivity, so much so, that employees are willing to take a pay cut in exchange for more meaningful work.

So there’s a vital need to create working environments where everyone can feel they belong – in short, an inclusive workplace. To make that possible, you need to start at the top with managers and leaders. Why? As Indeed’s Head of Career Insights Jay Munro explains, it takes a person who has gained the employee’s trust and built a rapport with them to drive the right culture. “[Creating an inclusive culture] shouldn’t be left up to HR because they’re not the one directly managing people – they don’t have the same relationship as a manager would,” Munro says.

Further, an inclusive workplace should be a priority for business leaders since it leads to better performance

So what can you do to encourage your employees to bring their whole self to work and build a genuinely inclusive environment? Here are Munro’s suggestions:

Walk the talk. Munro encourages leaders to keep inclusivity front of mind at all times. “It’s not just a matter of implementing an initiative and then walking away, it should never be just a checkbox exercise,” he warns.

Recruit the right way. Many biases could creep into the recruitment and selection process. “We might not know it, but we may have a bias against candidate names that don’t sound Anglo-Saxon or in favour of someone who studied at the same university as we did. So, we need a clear understanding of where bias can manifest and try to eliminate it,” Munro points out.

Communicate openly. Intersectionality, or the overlap between various aspects of a person’s social identity, means each person’s experience of inclusion is unique. So, Munro cautions against generalisations. “We can sometimes fall into the trap of making assumptions about what people in minority groups or different social group think, feel and want. The best thing that managers can do is create a supportive environment where people feel safe to open up about what makes them feel like they belong,” he says. Munro also warns that managers mustn’t force their employees to disclose personal information if they are not comfortable discussing it – this would be the opposite of an open and safe space for communication.

Get to know your people. Does the current pandemic have a particular impact on some of your team members with health issues? How do current social issues affect team members who might be directly impacted? Are there challenges at home or in your employees’ personal life that prevent them from feeling comfortable and safe at work? These are the question managers must ponder according to Munro, who believes knowledge of these facts will help you build empathy and understanding for every member of your team.

Create opportunities for inclusion. Employee groups could be a powerful source of a sense of belonging. For example, Munro lists Indeed’s ‘Access’ (for employees with disabilities) and ‘iPride’ (for employees who are part of the LGBTQ+ community) groups as advocates for internal awareness. These groups also act as a voice for the executive team to consult when making decisions that impact their groups. Smaller organisations might also want to consult with team members from diverse cultural backgrounds about their cultural celebrations to find ways for the entire organisation to take part.

“The reality is there’s still a huge number of employees who feel that they need to hide part of who they are in the workplace. It means there’s much work to do not just to implement diversity and inclusion programs but to maintain them and stay true to them every single day,” Munro concludes.

How will you help your employees feel comfortable with their whole selves?

How can you motivate your teams to give their best willingly? Join the Program Director of the General Manager’s Program at AGSM @ UNSW Business School, Matt Byrne to learn the key activities that will unlock your team’s motivation. Book now for our next Webinar: Discretionary Effort: Understanding Motivation.

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