Inclusive Workplaces Lead to Engaged Employees

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It's no coincidence that employers with vibrant diversity and inclusion initiatives usually have highly engaged workforces. Inclusion is a key factor in boosting employee satisfaction and performance, according to Shirley Davis Sheppard, Ph.D., vice president of diversity and inclusion and workplace flexibility at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

“You can have diversity but not inclusion in your organization,” said Sheppard on Aug. 2, 2012, during the SHRM webinar, “Inclusion Supercharges Employee Satisfaction and Performance.” “Inclusion is the ability to engage diversity in your workforce, so that everyone has equal opportunities to contribute.”

Sheppard joined Eric Peterson, SHRM’s manager of diversity and inclusion, to present the webinar. Together, they outlined the primary motivators leading to high performance and how employers can leverage those motivators to develop an inclusive workplace culture with high employee engagement.

Peterson referred to research conducted by best-selling author Daniel Pink, which found the top three motivators for 21st century workers to be:

  • Autonomy—the urge to run our own lives.
  • Mastery—the desire to get better and better at something that matters.
  • Purpose—the yearning to do what we do in service to something larger than ourselves.

He noted that the three motivators fit well into any organization’s inclusion initiatives. Employers that value and offer those three motivators to employees tend to have more engaged and higher-performing workforces. One mistake most employers make, however, is to pigeonhole employees into jobs or tasks, instead of allowing more creativity in how workers work.

“People often won’t do a good job because they just don’t like what they’re doing,” said Peterson. “People are good at performing certain duties and tasks because they really enjoy doing them. Allow your employees to play to their strengths.”

Organizations that allow all employees to contribute by using, developing and strengthening their talents tend to be very inclusive workplaces—and very successful.

Sheppard and Peterson noted that research has uncovered significant business benefits from inclusive workplaces.

“You can build a strong business case for employee engagement and inclusion initiatives that help to drive engagement,” said Sheppard.

She said 2009 research from Hewitt Associates revealed that businesses with high levels of employee engagement tended to have higher stock prices and stronger returns on investment for corporate shareholders. And a 2009 report from Watson Wyatt found that businesses with high employee engagement had higher productivity, lower turnover and stronger customer loyalty, Sheppard added.

She told the webinar audience that inclusion initiatives can affect an organization in five positive ways:

  • Employee involvement.
  • Health and safety programs.
  • Employee growth and development.
  • Workplace flexibility.
  • Employee recognition.

All five of these elements are the pillars of psychologically healthy organizations and highly engaged workforces, Sheppard asserted.

“But to achieve an inclusive and high-performing workplace you must also have effective leadership,” said Sheppard.

She said that effective leadership comes from strong communication skills combined with a clear and compelling vision for an organization that empowers employees. Effective leaders support their organization’s strategic goals by understanding how inclusion and employee engagement are crucial to achieving those objectives.

Sheppard and Peterson mentioned several of the most respected corporations and discussed how their inclusion initiatives have led to continued business success. Peterson said the CEO of motion picture studio DreamWorks Animation, Jeffrey Katzenberg, communicates his vision for the organization every day.

“He writes a daily e-mail communication that goes to all Dreamworks employees, and he does it in his own unique voice,” Peterson said. “He makes it sound as if he’s writing to a group of less than 200, not 2,000. Employees feel a real connection with him and with the organization. Dreamworks excels at making everyone feel included and that they all contribute to the company’s continued success.”

Peterson then discussed Zappos, the online shoe and clothing retailer, that is consistently listed as one of the best places to work in the United States. Peterson said that “weirdness” was listed among Zappos’ corporate values.

“You know it’s funny that it is listed as a value but at the same time it’s one of the most eloquent ways to describe how the organization truly values inclusion,” Peterson said. “What they are saying, is they value anything that makes you unique and that the company wants employees to find ways to use their unique and weird qualities to contribute. And that’s what inclusion is really all about.”

Bill Leonard is a senior writer for SHRM.  To view the original article, please click here.