July 1, 2020

10 Ways your Company can support Black colleagues and improve wellbeing--starting today

Creating an inclusive culture that prioritizes diversity, equality, and employee wellbeing.

By Emily Noll and LaTonia McGinnis

Remember the days of trying to justify your company’s wellness program based on the potential for reduction in health care claims? Well, most organizations have since acknowledged that there is limited evidence, if any, to make that business case, and now recognize that the greater value in having a wellness program and a healthy workplace culture lies in supporting the people that make our organizations succeed. In other words, it’s the right thing to do to create the conditions for our employees to thrive.

We don’t want to see our team members struggling with mental or physical illness, financial stress, or burnout. We don’t want our employees’ wellbeing to suffer due to a toxic work environment or at the hands of an obtuse manager. We want our employees to show up to the office (real-life or virtual) as their best selves, fully charged, and engaged.

The question that is top of mind for many of us at this crossroad is: Are we doing all that we can do to support the wellbeing of our black and minority employees?

It takes significant energy for our black coworkers to cope with the racial injustice in American life and business—we must pause to acknowledge the pain of each violent tragedy and act of terrorism, in addition to working together to be agents of long-term change. Creating the conditions for our team members to thrive requires a focus on black lives. The inclusion and wellbeing of team members marginalized in any way must take center stage without intermission.

Diversity and inclusion is a huge space. With respect to employee engagement and wellbeing, there are, however, many opportunities, strategies and policies, that, when deployed thoughtfully, can raise the consciousness of business and help us chart a positive course forward for enhanced wellbeing and sense of belonging for our team members.

Here are 10 starters for consideration:

1. Consult the experts. Lean into these issues with the help of diversity and inclusion experts who have accumulated tremendous knowledge and experience related to these issues and who are ready and willing to talk through strategies and challenges.

Those of us who are not experts, but eager to become advocates also have a role to play, but not likely as advisers. With the help of a professional consultants and an internal task force, you can create and publish reasonable actions steps and welcome employees’ efforts to hold you accountable.

2. Call on your team to share their insights. Listen to employees’ feelings, concerns and ideas on how to enhance the workplace culture. It’s important for everyone to be able to bring their whole self to work in order to contribute their talents, skills and abilities. Often, people of color hold back their true selves in order to ‘fit in’ to cultural norms. Creating the conditions where people can bring their whole selves to work can lead to higher engagement and retention of great talent.

Start by communicating an open door policy and ask for volunteers. Make it easy for employees to raise their hand as a person who wants to help with diversity and inclusion efforts. Don’t push employees who are not ready to talk as many are healing from emotional trauma and are exhausted from fighting this battle.

3. Challenge your team to look inward and grow. Encourage employee self-reflection and growth in the areas of social and community wellbeing. Ask employees to examine their own relationship with race, inventory personal inclusivity and work on diversifying their experiences. Dr. Eddie Moore Jr.’s 21-day racial equity challenge is a good place to jump start personal commitment, as it includes activities of varying length and intensity to engage individuals.

Remind employees that commitment to allyship with minorities and oppressed groups requires a lifelong journey in order to become a catalyst for change.

4. Provide forums that make way for meaningful dialogue and change. A company-endorsed Employee Resource Group is an ideal avenue to give employees a safe place to share their feelings, personal stories and resources. Other opportunities include dedicating space on your intranet or use of team-based tools, such as Microsoft Teams or Noodle. Town halls can be productive with the right facilitator.

5. Ensure private mental health resources are in place. For those seeking a more intimate experience, encourage use of the company’s Employee Assistance Program for personal and family counseling. The ongoing fight for racial justice that continues during a health pandemic has taken an exhausting toll on black colleagues and has a significant impact on their emotional health which can spill over to other aspects of wellbeing.

6. Facilitate a culture of inclusive leaders from the ground up. Work with HR and D&I experts to increase black and minority representation in senior positions; this can also positively affect career wellbeing and setting professional goals for employees who aspire to leadership roles. Provide managers with access to assessment opportunities, coursework, and professional coaching to help them explore their implicit biases and start or deepen their own plan for becoming a more inclusive leader.

There is a wide range of available resources, and one that is an especially strong starting point is Jennifer Brown’s book “How to Be an Inclusive Leader.” Begin with existing managers, but, to support lasting change identify the next generation of company leadership, particularly self-leaders and peer coaches who are willing and capable of listening to others and mentoring others.

7. Cultivate empathy at all levels of the organization. While empathy is said to be a form of knowledge, practicing it is a skill. Provide experiences that enable people to grow and connect with each other. Take advantage of opportunities through social wellbeing to bring people together.

Host activities that honor diverse experiences and provide opportunities for conversation. Small group book clubs offer a meaningful experience, and take advantage of author Dr. Robin DiAngelo free discussion guide on her bestselling book “White Fragility…” Furthermore, recognize employees for demonstrating empathy in alignment with your company’s values.

8. Correct those who aren’t supporting an inclusive culture. Hold employees who are reacting in negative ways to diversity and inclusion efforts accountable. Reprimand the use of racial gaslighting and other tactics, offer a coach to help them with personal growth, and otherwise follow through with consequences, which may include letting go people whose values are not aligned with your company’s commitment to human rights. Go a step further, by condemning unacceptable behavior toward oppressed groups and modeling inclusive approaches within your industry.

9. Enhance benefits and wellbeing programs and communications. Collaborate with vendor partners and benefits and wellbeing professionals on initiatives and health education materials to better reach a culturally and linguistically diverse workforce.

In the physical wellbeing space, be mindful of harmful messaging that frequently appears in weight management and body image courses and mainstream fitness programs. If incentive-based programs are used, know the negative impact they may have on financial wellbeing.

Evaluate your company’s progress toward addressing health issues that disproportionately affect racial and ethnic minorities and introduce programs to reduce health disparities and stigma in seeking support for mental health issues. Consider attending training on the social determinants of health so that you can develop more meaningful wellbeing programs and community partnerships and improve access to quality health care long-term.

10. Support organizations and causes that share your ideals. Take action as a company by donating time and money to local and national organizations that are fighting for racial justice. Employers with community wellbeing and charitable giving initiatives can evaluate those programs for inclusivity and expand them with the input from team members.

Creating an inclusive culture that truly prioritizes diversity and equality, and puts employee wellbeing at the forefront, is long overdue and current events are bringing this straight to the desk of executives across the country. There is no easy button, magic wand or fast pass to creating an inclusive workplace; building a successful well-rounded diversity initiative is a heavy lift that require lots of arms. Together, we can create change.

Reprinted with permission from June 18,2020 online edition of www.BenefitsPro.com © 2020 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited, contact 877-257-3382 or reprints@alm.com.

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