While organizations increasingly champion diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), their time, energy, enthusiasm, and even the tangible benefits that result from these efforts don’t always translate to immediate business results. When this disconnect occurs, DEI programs face the risk of losing their importance in the organizational pecking order.
The Importance of Belonging
So how do you ensure that your DEI programs are driving the kind of measurable increases in attracting and retaining employees, while satisfying the results that leadership seeks? The key is to promote belonging. A report from mental health start-up BetterUp found that a high sense of belonging among employees resulted in a 56% increase in job performance, a 50% reduction in the risk of turnover, and a 75% reduction in sick days.1
But adding the sense of belonging to the organizational agenda is harder than simply adding a “B” to the end of DEI. The key to achieving belonging is when employees feel psychologically safe and supported,2 according to Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson. In simple terms, this means that employees bring their whole selves to work. After many discussions with organizations, we have found this is best achieved by focusing on what’s most personal to employees and creating a dialogue around their needs.
Benefits as a Gateway to Your People’s Hearts and Minds
Benefits is an area where we see vastly different experiences in how employees, based on their individual characteristics, perceive employer support. This makes benefits the perfect avenue to promote belonging.
Start by getting a feel for where your people are coming from. This involves thinking from a DEI perspective about their family situations, life stages, culture, communities, health profiles, and levels of income, among other elements. The benefits required to support people’s needs vary. In many cases, taking an outcomes-based view of employee benefits results in uncovering areas of disparity.
For example, does a 401(k) plan do everything it can to ensure that everyone is moving toward retirement readiness, or does it treat everyone “equally” without regard to the end result? Can a health plan provide better options for care by expanding remote access and virtual support? Be sure you’re thinking through these issues and others like them. For help, check out Segal’s Benefits Quarterly article, How Employee Benefit Programs Can Support Your DEI Efforts.
Once you’re clear on what’s working and what isn’t, you can begin the work of increasing belonging. Start by making benefit changes that expand the support or usefulness of the program. Then make it clear that change is happening. Promote the positive impact to your employees, so everyone is aware of the changes you’re making and why.
Making What You Say Matter
While there is no one right way to communicate the value of your benefits to diverse employees, there are certain elements that can help your messages resonate.
To gain an understanding of your employees’ benefits needs, listen. Listening is not only a useful knowledge-gathering exercise. It also benefits your employees. Listening provides a level of catharsis that employees only get when they’re sharing their concerns. It signals that you have done your homework and that anything you say to your people comes with a level of understanding and context. Consider engaging your employees using leadership forums, surveys, focus groups, and employee resource groups (also known as business resource groups, employee impact groups, and affinity groups). These efforts increase your standing as a credible narrator, and employees are more prepared to listen to you in return.
Storytelling was originally a means for sharing and interpreting experiences. As humans, we characterize our interactions with benefits programs in terms of how they affect our personal situations. The stories you tell as a benefits communicator should depend on who you are talking to and should reflect the values, priorities, and ways to take in information that are natural to each audience.
To say that benefits communications need to be about storytelling is a simplification of a complicated process. But, to the extent that you can create personal connections or reference points, you’ll have positively influenced your employees’ sense of belonging.
There is a saying in the book No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotions at Work, that diversity is akin to having a seat at the table, inclusion is having a voice, and belonging is having that voice be heard. The best communication strategies elevate the employee’s voice. No message is better received than the one communicated peer-to-peer, by employees who work together and trust one another.
If you have included employee resource groups in your listening process, it should be easier to enlist them as advocates in your benefits communication strategy. The impact of employee voices across the spectrum of Asian American, Black, Latinx, LGBTQ+, Women, Disabled, and Caregiving identities cannot be overstated. Video testimonials, social media postings, and personalized outreach can empower individuals to recast individual stories into group stories. These efforts help demonstrate that exciting and meaningful changes are underway.
Sharing in Success
As employees feel increasingly seen and supported, their level of comfort in the organization grows. This comfort breeds a sense of belonging—and from that comes the affinity, loyalty, and enthusiasm that can improve organizational performance. To sustain a culture of belonging over the long term, it’s important that both DEI-based benefits and the communications that follow are part of the normal course of your engagement efforts with the programs and resources you offer.
Learn more about how your organization can use DEI in Benefits to promote employee belonging. Take this quick assessment.
We’re proud to work with organizations that value their people. If you want to learn more, we’d love to talk.
2. Amy C. Edmondson, “The Role of Psychological Safety in Diversity and Inclusion,” Psychology Today, June 22, 2020.