If you wind back the clock just a decade or so, most company meetings and internal comms projects were very different from how they are today. Senior management would often take the opportunity to broadcast the latest company news to employees. It was a one-way conversation. Staff often felt disengaged and unable or unwilling to contribute.
Businesses may have talked about being inclusive and ensuring everyone had their say but the reality was often very different. The voices of the same few managers and leaders have often dominated the conversation. Workers at the bottom of the chain, or those less confident in speaking out, often felt their views didn’t count.
Today, we are seeing a real transformation in the ways organisations engage with their workforces. Technology is allowing businesses to make certain everyone’s voice is heard, no matter how shy or outspoken they are, no matter what background they are from or what level of seniority they hold in the organisation.
What is driving this change is a growing awareness among senior management teams that they must be inclusive. If they fail to be, they run the risk of missing out on creative ideas, and they are likely close themselves off to the skills of a major part of the talent pool available to them. Whether that be people that struggle physically or mentally to be present every day in the office, or those returning to the workforce following a prolonged period of maternity or paternity leave.
Attracting new talent while retaining talented employees
Businesses must make sure that they are opening themselves up and making themselves attractive to this talent but also that they are successfully retaining it once they have brought it into the organisation. Inclusivity can help deliver this as people like working in collaborative organisations. They want to be part of businesses where success is built on teamwork and change driven by it. Businesses that deliver these kinds of supportive environments will attract and keep more staff.
Employees today also believe that they should value themselves more as individuals and that their employers should do the same. In line with this, we are seeing a heightened focus on the importance of a good work life balance but also a global trend towards increased self-care and self-worth in the workplace.
Employees are increasingly coming to a firm resolution that in the modern world of work, they should never feel hesitant to put their strongly-held views forward, or speak up if they believe that something is wrong. They are increasingly of the opinion that what they think and say should really matter to the organisation.
Further to this, we are seeing an increasing number of businesses building environments where everyone can communicate in an authentic way. They want to engage with their employees, open up conversations and get their feedback.
HR’s role in inclusivity
This focus on inclusivity is increasingly being built into the fabric of the organisation itself. We are seeing organisations (especially large companies) increasingly put in place very specific HR roles such as Head of Inclusion & Welfare, and task them with taking the lead in creating a more open environment in which all employees feel a sense of ‘belonging’.
By having a flat communication network that connects leaders and senior management directly to their staff and championing a transparent communications culture, employees feel more connected to their colleagues and more valued by their employers which is a win-win situation for everyone.
With a more engaged workforce, businesses tend to get better outcomes. They generally keep staff longer, for example, and so their recruitment costs go down. And by looking after them well, they make sure their employees work harder on the business’s behalf.
Including remote workers and fostering employee feedback
Inclusivity is also key in helping support a distributed workforce. Remote workers often feel ‘out-of-the-loop’, as they may lack opportunities for face-to-face interaction with colleagues and managers – and this sense of isolation can negatively impact their mental health and general well-being.
Today, internet-based engagement technology offers a solution. It is accessible at anytime from anywhere, so this kind of technology can help dispersed workforces feel more involved.
Despite all this, there is a fundamental difference between understanding the theoretical benefits of being more inclusive and implementing the approach in practical terms. For some organisations, there are still some major barriers to overcome. Some organisations feel overwhelmed by the scale of employee feedback and get worried that they are not equipped to respond to it. At the same time, they are concerned that a failure to respond efficiently and effectively may further disenfranchise their workforce. The reality is that they can learn a lot by just understanding and listening to their employees. That in itself will take them a long way.
Often, just the fact that they have not previously tried the technology or the approach is seen as an obstacle. Using anonymous feedback in meetings, for example, might be new to the business and they therefore may be worried about it. Once they have dipped their toes in the water and tried new technology in a live environment, these concerns often start to fade away.
Providing a forum for anonymous feedback is another means by which businesses can deliver inclusivity. If employees feel that they can be identified, it can inhibit their willingness to interact. Being anonymous enables employees to speak out and engage without fear of being judged by their peers or their managers.
True anonymity is often difficult to deliver today, however. Any employee logging into meeting software will be linked to an account. If they use collaborative software or social media, they can be traced, real anonymity is hard to achieve. Yet traceability must be avoided to gain true feedback from employees, such as not keeping IP addresses.
Why listening is key to inclusivity
Ultimately, a key element of building a truly inclusive workplace must include a commitment that everyone’s voice is listened to and heard, whatever their level of seniority, role or background. Too often in the past, lip service has been paid to this concept but little has been done.
Today, though, that’s changing. Businesses increasingly understand the need to be inclusive and the benefits it can bring and they are increasingly implementing the processes and technology to make it happen.
Pete Eyre, Managing Director at Vevox