Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) is all about making everyone feel welcomed and engaged. Inclusive and diverse environments enable increased productivity, loyalty, creativity, and positive work cultures. Where better to turn for help than the welcoming practices of D&I in these times of COVID – where with empty streets, extreme isolation, and an unclear future, it couldn’t feel further from welcoming.
Many of our D&I tips designed to create more inclusive hiring practices can be modified to boost morale and keep your employees engaged. Here are a few.
1. Share mental health benefits
When interviewing for a job, many candidates will not disclose their specific needs (such as maternity leave, specific health requirements, etc.) for fear of discrimination. The solution is to provide details about health benefits to all candidates to allow candidates to determine if the employer can provide what they need without asking. The same goes for employees.
There are many organizations focusing heavily on physical health - promoting safe hygiene and isolation practices, implementing work from home policies, and providing resources for those who believe they are sick. But, what about mental health?
We are faced with the combination of heavy stress (job security, financial security, health), fear and uncertainty of the future, and extreme social isolation, which will cause loneliness and a strain on any relationship for those that are isolated with others (roommates, significant others, family). Such conditions are a ripe breeding ground for mental health challenges. But, with the taboo around mental health still strong, many will not ask for help.
So, like with candidates, provide the information without requiring them to ask.
Tip: share mental health benefits to all employees
Outline the mental health benefits of the organization. Include coverage, list of providers, and links to resources. Send it in email, post on internal sites, make available on websites, print out fliers, etc. Use whatever communication channels work for your employees.
For those that don’t have mental health benefits, look to the community to find options for your employees such as hotlines, resources, and non-profits offering services. Many employees will need help in the coming days and weeks and will be grateful that they were not forced to ask.
2. Turn ‘social isolation’ to ‘social while isolated’
In inclusive hiring practices, showing an engaging culture through social events can be very effective, if they are beyond the ‘holiday parties and happy hours’ to show a wide range of events to engage a wide range of people. For employees trapped in isolation, social ‘events’ are even more important.
Humans are social, we need interaction. Without it, we are prone to depression, anxiety, and other potentially debilitating effects. Whether your employees are all working from home, or staying six feet apart on the manufacturing floor, they are likely not getting enough of it.
So, while we must remain isolated, it doesn’t mean we must be devoid of social outlets.
Tip: offer a wide range of virtual social ‘events’
From virtual coffee to meetings for absolutely nothing, to a book club, create a range of outlets so all employees have some way to engage. There are plenty of virtual tools available for free (zoom, gchat, Duo, facetime, facebook, to name a few) that allow you to create virtual environments to share ideas, have lively debates, or talk about absolutely nothing.
Allow for 30 minute coffee or lunch breaks where teams are encouraged to just be social, create groups around different topics that can meet once a week for an hour, and promote virtual mentor programs so employees don’t feel like they are stuck in an endless tactical scramble. Book or movie clubs, parent support groups, gaming groups, cooking challenges, etc. help your employees stay engaged and virtually celebrate their authentic selves together.
3. Raise awareness to avoid discrimination
For inclusive hiring, knowing what not to say can be just as important as knowing what to say. Deliberate or accidental, the wrong phrase or topic can be perceived as highly offensive, discriminating, or aligning. Raising awareness through training, examples, and best practices helps equip everyone to being more inclusive. With COVID-19, there is a new wave of discrimination that requires awareness.
Unfortunately, as with most crises, COVID has brought out the worst in some. Discrimination toward people descended from China and other eastern-Asian nations is on the rise and ageism is being fed by derogatory terms and blame. Some of these actions, terms and hashtags may be adopted without knowing the full impact.
Nip these biases and discriminatory practices in the bud before they have a chance to take root in your organization.
Tip: raise awareness and issue guidelines on acceptable, universal behaviors
Inform the organization on how to refer to COVID-19 (and not to refer to it, if necessary), and accepted practices for the treatment of others. Make it clear that any exclusionary or hurtful behaviors toward people based on age, ethnicity, or other factors is unacceptable. Keep the language universal, positive and empowering as much as possible.
For organizations that require more effort, consider using scenarios with examples of what to do and what not to do, and hold virtual forums where employees can submit questions anonymously so concerns and issues can be addressed head-on, inclusively.
Bringing it all together – D&I wisdom to help manage during COVID-19
These are unprecedented times of global fear, uncertainty, and isolation. But, while there are days where we feel alone being stuck in our homes or standing six feet apart, behind masks and with staggered breaks, we are not alone.
Help employees with wisdoms of D&I like proactively providing information about mental health benefits and resources, offering virtual social outlets to stay engaged, and combating discrimination before it takes hold.
We are all in it together, and together we will make it through.