It can be such a challenge keeping track of all the benefits and creative perks today’s workforce demands! What do employees want most: Flexibility? Better benefits? Robust mental health support? Did you ever think inclusiveness would top the list?
Consider the experience of an employee who is a victim of recent racial trauma, showing up for a video therapy session with a white therapist. Or an employee who needs a flexible schedule to fulfill responsibilities at home like caring for a disabled dependent. Is your organization adequately addressing the needs of an ever-evolving workforce?
The Evolution of Diversity Dialogue
Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is a hot topic for good reason. As you can imagine, DEI’s roots dig deep in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Over many decades it has come to inspire conversations not only on diversity in race, but also gender and gender identities, life experiences, income levels, religious backgrounds, ages and stages of life, languages, and household family structures.
The May 2020 injustice of George Floyd’s arrest and consequential death, and the innumerable tragedies since then have amplified Americans’ awareness of the injustices around them. With this new awareness, many Americans look to their employers to take more action.
Where DEI and Benefits Collide
DEI intersects with everything that you’ve promised employees to care for their well-being.
So, you’ve successfully built a dynamic, diverse workforce. Benefits packages have been regularly updated with recruiting and retention in mind. But have you conducted a DEI audit lately?
Diversity experts will tell you that looking through the DEI lens more carefully at your employee benefits materials, policies and procedures, facilities, special events, and other employee-centered programs and perks should be a routine, ongoing effort.
Think about the importance of making health coverage, comfortable workspaces, leaves of absence, mental health support, and flexible schedules available to all on an equal level. Sounds straightforward, but it turns out, it can be all too easy to miss the mark for at least one subgroup of employees. The key is making a concerted effort to regularly review DEI efforts and your progress and grow in your knowledge of where gaps exist.
You can’t satisfy every need 100% of the time, but it’s important to start somewhere. Small but intentional changes can go a long way to convey an organization’s sensitivity and commitment to responding to employees’ needs with care. Consider how you can engage with employees to better understand what’s most important to them.
To ramp up inclusivity and equity efforts in the workplace, potential next steps might include:
- Examining equal opportunity: Do your professional development and educational assistance programs provide equal opportunity to all regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, position, and income level?
- Meeting accessibility needs: Where virtual engagement is possible or expected, are you meeting the technology needs of all interested employees? For example, telemedicine meets people where they are, day or night. On the topic of remote work and flexibility, have you thought of all of the employee groups that could benefit: disabled, commuters, semi-retired, working parents, and caregivers, to name a few?
- Acknowledging modern households and couples: Understand that a “traditional family” is a thing of the past. Do you adequately support today’s diverse family structures, which may include employees and their dependents, aging parents, adopted or foster children, and same-sex spouses?
This is just the tip of the iceberg! Sometimes, in a rush to meet the growing needs of one employee population, we miss the mark with another. Dissecting the needs of a multigenerational workforce, the World Economic Forum offers this perspective:
- Gen Z: Social issues matter, employer values should align with their own; concerned about well-being and mental health; desire dialogue but may prefer digital over face-to-face.
- Millennials: Early adopters of remote work, appreciate flexibility; in the process of building families, so health insurance, parental leave, childcare, and fertility benefits are top of mind; looking to pay off student loan debt.
- Gen X: Mid to late career with kids at home or transitioning to empty nesters; the generation most likely to care for dependents and aging parents simultaneously, so affordable health insurance, flexibility, and dependent care assistance are important.
- Baby Boomers: Retired or nearing retirement, aging, and possibly facing health issues for selves or partner; value traditional benefits and affordability is key.1
Commit to the Cause
Don’t let your organization’s dedication to DEI lapse, no matter what events or distractions lie ahead. The greatest impact comes from ongoing effort. Successful DEI initiatives can set you up for:
- Increased employee engagement and satisfaction
- Higher retention, lower turnover
- A more diverse pool of candidates
- Better decision-making2
Some tactics you may consider to stay on track:
- Make sure messaging at every level communicates diversity and inclusiveness as core values, and promotes the benefits of a synergy that comes from integrating people of many backgrounds;
- Continue investing in diversity training and education for decision makers, HR professionals, and any staff in leadership positions at the facility level;
- Send out regular reminders about benefits offerings to ensure they’re being used;
- Host listening sessions with employees who have an ear to the ground and can share real stories from the sidelines about those feeling underrepresented or underserved by benefits;
- Develop a means for measuring organizational progress on DEI initiatives.
All employees want to be seen.
Remember, to retain your best employees and attract new people, it’s important to remain committed to cultivating a warm, welcoming environment. Be well-intentioned, flexible, and ready for unexpected shifts in workforce demands. Above all, make diversity, inclusion, and equity a driving force at every level of your organization for a richer, more sustainable future.
1Chen, Jacklyn (2022). Here’s How to Tailor Employee Benefits to a Diverse Workforce. World Economic Forum. Retrieved January 25, 2023, from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2022/09/employee-benefits-diversity/
2Diversity Equity and Inclusion: Why it Matters. St. Bonaventure University. Retrieved January 26, 2023, from https://online.sbu.edu/news/why-dei-matters