How can organisations align their wellbeing strategies with inclusion?


Need to know: 

  • Making sure wellbeing works for everyone can help lower absence rates, reduce turnover and decrease stress.
  • Some elements, such as the work-life balance benefits of flexible working, are universal, but employers could also consider segmenting their wellbeing interventions.
  • Support networks, leadership buy-in and management training can all help facilitate an open culture of communication and inclusion.

Diversity is, quite simply, good for business, helping organisations boost decision-making, understand consumers and recruit the best talent.

Inclusion goes even further than this, particularly when it takes wellbeing into account, as it focuses on allowing diverse employees to thrive, says Elizabeth Walker, commercial director at Distinctly PR: “Lower absenteeism, less stress, greater collaboration, increased productivity, [better] retention; if [employers] support everyone [they are] going to have that healthier culture where they get reduced discrimination, taking that toxicity out of a work environment.”

Frances Duffy, HR director at Capgemini, has a similar attitude: “Our aim is to be a truly inclusive organisation, and that means everybody feels valued, included, empowered and really able to thrive and do their best. Wellbeing is a natural part of that.”

Universal policies

There are some initiatives that have universal applications and, in the process, are key in the push towards inclusion.

“One of the big things we think is relevant to everyone is about flexibility in their working hours, where they work and how they work,” says Duffy. “[That is] something that everybody can be included in.”

There can, however, be assumptions that flexible working is for parents, and predominantly women, who can then be subject to negative stereotypes regarding their commitment to work.

Ensuring that these policies are available universally, and are communicated as such, can help everyone reap the benefits of a healthy work-life balance, in addition to reducing potential antipathy among different groups.

Segmented wellbeing

A key concern should be ensuring that, when initiatives are brought in, they are not exclusive, says Richard McKenna, director at Inclusive Employers: “There’s no point working in functional chimneys, we need to coordinate and collaborate and ensure inclusion is wired into everything.

“When it comes to wellbeing, that is super important, so that we don’t create initiatives and solutions that are specific to one group of people but actually unintentionally exclude a whole load more.”

One method is to examine each initiative and ensure it caters to a wide range of needs, abilities and lifestyles. Simply bringing in a running club to boost employee health, for example, might fail to cater to those with physical disabilities.

On the other hand, employers could consider the benefits of drilling down into the issues faced by specific groups, such as providing wellness workshops targeting the stresses faced by those in the LGBT community.

Support networks

Employee networks can be a forum for support among individuals from different backgrounds, while also helping to shape policy, inform leadership of employees’ needs and drive positive organisational culture.

To be as effective as possible, networks should have an executive sponsor, says Juliana Francis, head of diversity, inclusion and wellbeing at the Financial Ombudsman. This makes a clear statement about senior buy-in and allows for a direct line to leadership when it comes to making changes.

The presence of networks also makes a public commitment that potentially difficult topics, such as mental health, are open for discussion and will not be treated as a risk factor or career limitation.

Other ways of creating this environment include training champions, allies and mental health first aiders. Barbara Davenport, head of wellbeing at First Great Western notes that this is also a good method of ensuring that any wellbeing strategy is relevant and effective: “[Our wellbeing champions] will be our ears and eyes, and that will be the route for us to get feedback to say [what] worked [and] what people are saying about the strategy.”

Inclusive environment

Before an employer can ensure wellbeing initiatives are inclusive, it must already have an underlying culture of support, says Davenport: “It’s not just about the attraction piece, but when we get a diverse workforce, how do we make it an inclusive workplace for them? It’s about allowing people to be themselves at work; the way they dress, their sexuality or their religious beliefs, whatever that may be.”

Executives can lead by example in this regard, particularly when it comes to changing existing perceptions, notes Francis: “One of our executive directors took the whole summer off last year, and he wrote an article about it. He wanted to spend some time with his children, and he was supported in that by his colleagues and the organisation. Quite a few senior men are doing this as well, [and the organisation can] highlight that, so people don’t feel that if they’re a man they can’t take time off.”

This culture will ideally ensure that employees feel able to request provisions that might not seem obvious to someone without their specific lived experience.

The first steps to creating this environment of communication and support might be to provide education and training, actively providing the opportunity for staff, and particularly leaders, to learn more about others’ wellbeing needs.

“It’s about managers thinking about individuals, looking at what’s going on in their world, understanding who they are, understanding the issues that might be going on in their life,” says McKenna. “It’s about ensuring that managers are not scared to have conversations about difference and are not scared to ask questions about people’s wellbeing.”

With managers leading the way, the workplace can become a space in which staff feel comfortable asking for the things they need to truly thrive, thereby ensuring that employee wellbeing caters for the many, not the few.

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