Engaging Through Inclusion

by Tolu Adebule and Demola Oke


photo: courtesy of www.inkumo.com

photo: courtesy of http://www.inkumo.com

A lot has been said about effectively engaging employees, as well as the undeniable benefits of doing so.

The employee’s contribution to the organization is paramount. Hence, one of HR’s most important responsibilities lies in ensuring that employees are positioned to give more of themselves, without necessarily increasing costs to the organization.

Valid questions such as -“Why do some work cultures/environments so easily promote high performance teams while others struggle with high turnover rates?” -have inspired according more attention to ‘soft issues’ at the workplace.

Rather than seeking to provide an analogy on how work cultures can be cultivated and developed with a “winning formula”, this post considers the basic things that can work, as garnered from practical experiences, observations and discussions. Specifically, it considers the concept of employee inclusion in a practical sense.

In brief, employee inclusion is an all-encompassing concept which recognizes the organization’s effort at ensuring that each individual within its diverse workforce feels relevant, comfortable and a part of the whole.

It is interesting to note that ample of opportunities often exist at the workplace to engage employees through inclusion.

For instance, everyone values being appreciated; it’s a basic primordial nature of humans. We cherish recognition and ultimately the sense of being a part of the group.

With this in mind, does HR go about including employees as they ought? Or do we perform our daily tasks passively; passing-off such opportunities?

Generally, a more strategic and deliberate approach to tasks increases the chances of improving the outcomes. Consequently, below are 5 useful yet basic tips which serve as pointers for HR professionals on ways to constantly seek to promote employee inclusion within the organization. That is; improving relationships, and ultimately performance/productivity by taking advantage of the most simple (often, daily) opportunities.

Openness in communication (within the organization). This achieves two basic but very important things: (1) It builds trust, and (2) it prevents miscommunication. It helps expel notions that could have otherwise been formed in the absence of a free flow of information. A closed system promotes isolation and uncertainty, and can feed preconceived ideas, reinforce bias and ultimately deplete the possibilities for inclusion and trust.

Making the most of the recruitment, selection, promotion, reward and employee development channels to ensure fairness is accorded to all (irrespective of race, ethnicity, disability, religious preferences and the likes). Employees should trust the processes that affect them, and these processes would be better served when it incorporates some form of feedback mechanism that can promote frank sharing of opinions and suggestions.

Often times we focus efforts on things, to the detriment of ‘people’. Little things like an environment that takes into consideration facilities for the disabled for instance go a long way in truly showing that inclusion isn’t just a policy on paper, but rather a way of life. There should be adequate parking provision for wheel chair users; stairs and passages that are wheelchair friendly or even dietary considerations for special needs employees etc. The little things are often the important things.

Rather than formulating policies which are supportive of single parents; pregnant women; nursing mothers etc because they look good on paper, enforcing same would be a great point to start towards engaging through inclusion. You’d be surprised the effect of family friendly policies on staff.

For new employees, either new to a role, department or organization, orientation and subsequent integration should be as smooth as possible. Make them feel welcome and valued, not just verbally but more importantly,  by ensuring all facilities needed for them to perform are ready on resumption. An unsettled employee is unlikely to feel like part of the whole group.

Another could be substituting “Christmas parties” with “end-of-the year parties”, as this can serve to accommodate employees of diverse beliefs. Also, bonding dinners for teams, especially when major objectives are achieved wouldn’t be such a bad idea either.

The above mentioned are just a few, as the possibilities are seemingly endless.

It’s important though to note that inclusion is not the prerequisite of HR alone. Team Leads, Divisional/Departmental/Branch heads etc have the primary responsibility of driving and achieving inclusion in their separate teams/units. However, HR’s role must be to focus on creating the “culture” where leaders inculcate the principles of inclusion, possibly by measuring/assessing the degree to which this is achieved.

Inclusion is a culture, and it should be promoted as such that is; a way of life for the organization -not just in words on paper or in the air, but with action.


Team Bonding

photo: courtesy of www.gobowling.com

photo: courtesy of http://www.gobowling.com

Don’t we just love the sophisticated dinners we get to attend in the name of ‘Team Bonding’?

I imagine some teams have it very bad. With unrealistic pressures, unpleasant colleagues, repulsive bosses and rude interns, I wonder if such situations could get any worse. Believe it or not, we are human and at the very core of our being is the need to belong, be celebrated and be acknowledged. Maslow knew exactly what the opposite felt like was how he had that figured out.

Teams are only as relevant as their performances are to the overall objective of the firm and just like every other association of individuals, factions are inevitable. The reality of frictions between team members explains how possible it could be to carve out 3 opposing groups from a 4-person team. Human interactions aren’t without the possibility of disagreements and it’s as a result of this that the concept of team building/bonding activities must have arisen.

For the average team, it usually starts slow -usually stiff; with everyone waiting for everyone else to make the first move to the dance floor. The younger colleagues often seem to eat a bit more than usual and I doubt it’s got anything to do with being hungry. I suspect it’s a plot to suddenly become invisible behind the heap on their plates and ultimately go unnoticed -in an attempt not to be called upon to give a speech.

Ofcourse, these occasions usually provide the boss with an opportunity to show-off his knowledge of expensive wines. For some reason, bosses also tend to act a little more friendly/open than usual. The truth is, once the initial awkwardness fades, guards are let-down; allowing the evening to take on a more familiar, warm and sociable atmosphere. From my experience, most leave with a fresh impression about others and a more cordial relationship than had previously ensued often obtains.

Team bonding activities aren’t limited to fancy dinners. Retreats, Group Travel, Paintballing, horse riding, cart racing, bowling, etc…  whatever your team decides.  Just as quarterly team bonding activities would be more preferable to those organized annually, I’d recommend that the planning of it should be a team effort with each individual having a specific role to play. The importance of involving everyone in the team serves to increase involvement as well as encourage a positive attitude towards the team bonding exercises selected.

Team bonding (activities) make for a less charged work environment. From the view point of the business, it serves to build trust among employees, it fosters a healthy work environment, enhances co-operation, breaks down communication barriers and seeks to eliminate feelings of exclusion among staff -possibly leading to increased productivity. Correspondingly, when properly executed, employees find it to be quite refreshing and rewarding.

When next you find yourself dreading an upcoming team bonding event, bear in mind that the lack of it hasn’t done much to improve the current (team) dynamics at work -logically, things could only begin to get better with its inclusion.

Implication for HR
The issue of how long a team bonding event will continue to foster good relations among team members often comes into question. The norm shouldn’t be to rely on these activities to yield any drastic changes. Rather than organize a periodic social-session which is essentially administrative, HR should endeavour to ensure that the underlying policies of the organization are such that promote an enabling environment for teams to thrive and function harmoniously. Initiatives aimed at promoting employee engagement across board should also remain HR’s top priority.