Diversity & Inclusion: Employees Want Organizational Support

By Perceptyx - January 21, 2021

If you are interested in learning more about organizational response specific to COVID-19, visit our COVID-19 Response page for resources, research, and insights about helping employees navigate this unprecedented situation.

In a video presentation for the recent Perceptyx Innovation Conference, Gena Cox, Industrial Psychologist and Executive Coach at Perceptyx, spoke about diversity and inclusion in the workplace, and outlined what it means to be an effective leader in an environment where employees’ needs are very different than they have been in the past. If you’d prefer to watch her presentation rather than read, click on the video above.

While 2020 has been a year like no other in the work experience, offering unique challenges in the form of COVID-19 and the social justice movement, there are reasons to celebrate.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced people to keep their distance, which has led to more people looking for opportunities to connect—whether that means seeking out friends they haven’t spoken to in years or striking up (socially distanced) conversations with neighbors they may not previously have known well or at all.

Despite the challenges, the human element still comes through as the most important thing, as each of us look to find connections in our personal and work lives. There is an underlying thread of optimism as we see leaders thinking in new ways and rising to meet the challenge of working in new ways.

At the same time, it’s important to keep in mind that COVID-19 and social justice disruptions have had disparate impacts, and that underrepresented or minority groups have had a less positive experience than others. These groups are more likely to be represented in the ranks of essential workers.

While everyone has been impacted by the pandemic, knowledge workers have been fortunate to be able to work from home. Research indicates that many who currently work from home will continue to do so once the pandemic ends. Many organizations are agreeing to this new arrangement, and some level of remote work is likely to be the norm after the pandemic. The challenge for these workers is that work and life are integrated in a way they’ve never been before: In 2020, work, school, and home all came together.

Not everyone has had the luxury of remote work, however. Essential workers have been on the front lines, where they are more likely to be exposed to illness. While we recognize and thank them, it’s important to understand that their experience is very different from that of remote workers, and to be sensitive to their challenges.

Has your organization mastered the skill of communicating during turbulent times? Download the Communication During Crisis Playbook to learn tips for effective communication during crises.

The Challenges

The pandemic has impacted human health in a number of ways, all of which have been felt differently among different groups:

  1. Physical health: This health impact is the most obvious. Data shows that people of color tend to be employed in essential jobs, where they are more likely to be exposed to COVID-19 than the average worker. These employees likely know someone who has died of COVID-19, either a friend or a member of the family. It’s important to keep this information in mind and look for opportunities to support these employees.
  2. Financial health: This impact is also felt disproportionately among people of color, again because of work demographics. Employees are concerned about basic human needs: money, housing, and food—the things they need to survive. They bring all those concerns to work with them as they try to do their jobs.
  3. Emotional or mental health: Typically, these aspects of health are not covered in great depth in the workplace. In 2020, there have been mental/emotional health impacts across the board, but again, people of color have had higher rates of impact. A greater proportion of this demographic is anxious and depressed. The reason for the additional strain is that they are concerned with both the pandemic and racism—not just in the broader community, but in the workplace as well. This has an effect on how people feel when they show up for work and how they get their work done. After the death of George Floyd at the hands of police, there has been a great increase in anxiety and stress among black Americans.

Aside from health impacts that have been borne disproportionately by people of color and essential workers, women have struggled due to carrying the bulk of caregiving responsibilities during the workday. As a group, they are reporting that they’re getting less support than men. Some women are saying they can’t continue to carry this stress, and are actively looking to either leave the workforce or find work that is less stressful or demanding. To arrest this trend, organizations must provide the support and flexibility women need to balance their responsibilities so they can show up for work and be their best.

The Good News

For all the challenges, there is a lot of good news as well. CEOs are taking notice and action in a way they never have before. Leaders are recognizing that you must view employees as whole people—who they are at work and who they are at home. They are also recognizing disparities in how the pandemic has affected different employees in different ways, and the need to take the lead in supporting all employees individually.

Perceptyx research has shown that the best thing leaders can do is connect with their employees as people, and understand and provide the support they need to be more engaged and productive.

A study from LinkedIn indicates that more can be done to minimize burnout, build resilience, and support employees’ mental and financial health. Some employers have offered employees advances while they wait for stimulus checks; others have set up ways for employees to channel some of their 401k contributions to personal “emergency funds” that are matched by the employer.

Many organizations are now listening more intently. They are tuning their surveys to CEO concerns and doing them in a more ad hoc, just-in-time way because things are changing so rapidly. Our clients are also asking many more specific questions on certain topics than previously.

On social justice concerns, for example, they are asking employees, “Is your experience consistent with our marketing?” and “Are we living up to your expectation on this issue?” More organizations are adopting a focus on diversity and inclusion (D&I) or expanding it with more survey content; using an eight item D&I index Perceptyx has developed, they can track D&I metrics over time and see how their actions impact the inclusion experience. Some of our clients are also asking more pointed questions of women, such as “What do you need?” and “What would empowerment and flexibility look like for you?” Most organizations are also asking a lot of questions about the future of work, and how leaders will need to behave in this future world.

Looking Ahead

As we leave 2020 behind, what we’ve seen is that clients have learned the importance of communicating with and seeking feedback from employees in turbulent times. CEOs are leading the way by being proactive about employee inclusion and trying to model the optimism they think all employees will need for a successful 2021. We will all be part of building the new normal, and it will provide a lot of new opportunities. The journey forward will be a marathon, not a sprint, but Perceptyx will be here to guide you forward.

See the way forward to greater resilience.

The Perceptyx platform can help you develop a listening strategy that fits the needs of your organization—and help navigate disruptive changes like the COVID-19 pandemic. Combined with support from our analytics experts, our platform can help you keep your finger on the pulse of your people’s perceptions, so you can help them to successfully deal with changes. Get in touch to see how we can help your organization weather challenges while maintaining engagement.

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