Employee Inclusion, Feeling Exclusion or Just an Illusion?

Over the last few years we have seen a notable increase in the focus on diversity in hiring. As these efforts continue to grow, companies now realize that hiring an employee and hoping they thrive in the company environment is no longer enough. It is important to ensure each employee is fully accepted into all aspects of company life.

Focusing on inclusion is not some wishy-washy “let’s all play nice together” in the playground concept. There is a true human aspect to ensuring the workplace is a positive environment, which ultimately leads to things that are beneficial to the company as well, including greater employee satisfaction and engagement, increased retention / reduced turnover, more attractiveness for hiring, etc.

More attention is now given to inclusion and although these efforts are a step in the right direction, they often only focus on the surface, the obvious. When this happens efforts to uncover issues of exclusion that exist throughout the organization fail as many employees who appear to be included in the various aspects of organizational life actually feel excluded. What may on the surface seem like inclusion, may just be an illusion as no one can ever really know how someone is feeling by observation alone.

Every single person’s perception of reality is their own and even people who reside in an “inner circle” feel excluded from time to time. This is why It is important to recognize that inclusion can only be measured at the individual employee level.

It is also important to distinguish between inclusion and illusion as the feeling of or desire for inclusion can vary greatly from employee to employee – and not everyone’s need for inclusion is the same. Feeling included is a combination of how the employee feels about their place in the company, how everyone else interacts with the employee and how being included or excluded impacts their ability to be successful at their job.

You may have known employees like this:

  • The employee included and invited to everything and still feels left out.
  • The employee who sits at his/her computer all day, may (or may not) be perfectly happy talking to no one.
  • The employee who everyone goes to for advice, questions, gossip and collaboration may love the attention but may also be stressed by constant interruption and an inability to complete his/her work.

Increasing Awareness of Exclusion

The truth is, you can’t always know what an employee is actually feeling, but there are things which can be done to increase the potential for awareness of exclusion:

Training Managers to be Coaches. Instead of relying solely on the employee to share when she/he is feeling excluded, managers should be treating their employees as people and groups as teams. By providing ongoing team building and coaching training for managers, managers will then be better able to recognize incidents of exclusion and encourage greater inclusion. Training can also teach managers how to take time during regular status meetings ask the difficult questions and deal with these more difficult situations.

Using Technology as a Means of Identifying Areas of Exclusion. Organizational Network Analysis (ONA) can be used to assess areas of greater or lesser collaboration. ONA has been around for quite some time and has often been used to help companies understand communication patterns, identify high potential employees and optimize processes. ONA can also look at the question of how employee engagement impacts employee turnover.

Looking at the data alone, it is easy to identify employees with high or low levels of collaboration, but the level of collaboration by itself can be misleading as different jobs require different levels of communication, not all high levels of collaboration are positive and some jobs require little to no collaboration at all. The challenge is accurately interpreting whether these levels of collaboration are positive or negative and their impact on retention. To do this, the data must be reviewed within the context of the environment. According to Greg Newman (Trustsphere), the accurate interpretation of the data relies on overlaying demographics and scaling down the network to smaller work groups, departments, or jobs with similar functions.

By working closely with data analysts, HR can identify the people whose low levels of collaboration indicate they may be at risk of leaving the company.

Understanding potential areas of exclusion is the first step in eliminating it. Managers still need to work with each employee, peers and other managers to ensure teams work cohesively and effectively. This can best be done within a culture of inclusion.

HR’s Role in Creating a Culture of Inclusion

Creating a culture of inclusion is not an easy task. It is a process of persistence and continual improvement. It needs to be done effectively, sincerely and with the right intentions. No company slogans, company-wide training, or other internal initiatives will help employees feel included. People aren’t stupid. Everyone can see when something is done with sincerity and when it is done for some kind of secondary gain.

Creating company-wide training programs will have short lived success at best as employees will eventually go back to their old habits. Creating a culture of inclusion can only be done by instilling continual and consistent practices which promote inclusion, including:

Offering Continual Training for Managers. Provide continual training for managers to teach and reinforce effective inclusion techniques, including modeling appropriate behavior, recognizing areas of employee risk, improving individual and group communications, and creating effective resource planning.

Encouraging a Climate of Greater Interaction. Breaking down barriers often requires increased interactions between people who normally do not interact. Advising managers to foster new associations by making small adjustments to (or eliminating) seating assignments, staffing ad-hoc projects, assigning strategic partnerships, etc.

Creating a Collaborative Culture. Encouraging managers of all levels (starting at the top) to consistently and sincerely ask for ideas and opinions from all staff on various decision-making opportunities and by using those ideas and suggestions, as appropriate.

HR needs to take an active and pro-active role in identifying potential areas of exclusion and creating more opportunities to increase inclusion. By focusing on employees at an individual level, incidents of exclusion can be reduced.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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