Industry Q&A: A Different Mindset to Ensure Inclusive Environments

Tasha Patterson@Work

What’s Hot? What’s Not? Embrace a Different Mindset to Ensure Inclusive Environments

As employers redefine acceptable approaches to work, they can differentiate themselves in a competitive hiring market and ensure policies and practices align with mission, vision, and value statements. Debra Dupree, Psy.D., chief executive officer, Relationships At Work, an absence management consultant and mediation specialist, offers guidance for employers grappling with unprecedented operational and human resource-related changes.


How have telework and hybrid approaches influenced other aspects of work?


The work world and our way of life particularly here in the U.S. has been pretty consistent for the last 50 years — since World War II in many respects. Over the last few years, we have been confronted with such massive change, unpredictability, and instability that it’s mind boggling. I was amazed by how quickly employers responded to shutdowns in March 2020, how quickly they moved, and how innovative they became. It has led to new and efficient systems and ways of doing things. The change has been incredible. We were forced to think outside the box, to look at things differently. COVID has been destructive and horrific, yet many positive, creative changes have happened as a result. Future success requires a new employer mindset.


How do you encourage employers to embrace a different mindset?


Moving from traditional offices to telework has allowed employees to put more emphasis on health and well-being while proving they’re just as productive if not more productive. That it doesn’t matter where we work; it’s how and when we work. It will be difficult to go back to the way things were. And I wonder why anyone would think we should. I’m sorry; things happen, life changes so it’s about adaptability, resilience, flexibility, and how to embrace new ideas moving forward, not going back. This is a good reason to revisit job descriptions to evaluate which jobs can be done remotely, and if it’s a temporary accommodation, how long can it be done remotely.

Ideally employers will review and update job descriptions every two years to ensure they are current and inclusive and will rethink how they engage and lead employees especially in virtual and hybrid environments. You need to align what you say (mission, vision, values statements) and what you do to attract and retain good talent, and company policies provide evidence for this.

It can be daunting to reassess job descriptions and duties, depending on company size, so consider reviewing and updating one to two key policy areas and departments each year. As you review policies, build in reevaluation time frames for all absence management policies to ensure that accommodations are effective and still necessary and to prove that you not only have made a good faith effort to work collaboratively with employees out on leave but that you’re investing in efforts to keep employees working, which helps with their mental as well as physical recovery and health.

We need to get back to people skills and help our managers become better leaders by collaborating with and listening to their employees. Managers should ask for guidance about what their employees want through surveys, focus groups, and town halls, follow through on suggestions shared, and then ask employees what went well and what they’d suggest for next steps. Managers need to understand their employees’ preferred communication styles, and get training to ensure effective communication, which can help them avoid miscommunication that can lead to lawsuits.

As a mediator, one of the biggest complaints from employees is that they can’t get enough time with their managers or with the chief executive officer. Consider daily huddles and weekly debriefs for five, 10, or 15 minutes to review what’s hot, what’s not, and how you might realign resources to identify who needs help to get a project done or meet a deadline. That’s how you create a team approach, a culture of inclusion rather than isolation.


How can employers change the way they engage with employees and how work is performed to illustrate your point?


There have been a lot of changes in the way organizations view human resources, in how people manage their time — and their employees — and organizations that are willing and able to look forward, not backward, will be most successful. For example, some organizations have broadened the c-suite to include chief diversity and inclusion officers, chief talent acquisition officers, and changing the whole idea of human resources to chief people officers because organizations are recognizing how important some of these roles are. Organizations that embrace remote (and hybrid) workplaces can save money on physical offices and realign resources into culturally inclusive environments to ensure people don’t feel isolated.

One clients identified an issue with retention and reassessed the organization’s approach to hiring to align with its mission, vision, and values. The chief executive officer now meets with new employees during the onboarding process to review mission, vision, and values statements and welcome people to the fold. Employees thank him for making a personal connection. This is important, especially with younger employees, who are purpose-driven and want to contribute to society and causes and feel like they’re contributing to the greater goal.

Interested in hearing more from Dr. Dupree? Listen in to a bonus episode of Absence Management Perspectives: A DMEC Podcast titled “Revisiting the Value of People Skills” for additional guidance and insights on the following questions.

  • How often should you revisit your policies?
  • How do you engage more thoughtfully with employees?
  • How well do you know your policies and are your job descriptions updated?