Everybody, get to work! Why engagement is dependent on inclusion.
Updated: Sep 26, 2019
It seems every company is doing some sort of yearly or bi-yearly engagement survey with its employees. They want to get the “pulse of the organization” or tap into “measure new initiatives.” What I don’t see as often is employers taking the results from the surveys and digging into the why behind “I would recommend our company to a friend or relative.” Too often companies are looking for confirmation or evidence that the policies or programs they have in place are working. What they should be looking at are the employees who are scoring low on engagement. Are these employees the minority in the population – women, people of color, LGBTQ, people with disabilities, etc. – people who sometimes feel excluded in the work environment?
A study from Downey, van der Werff, Thomas, and Plaut (2015) found that “diversity practices are associated with a trusting climate, that, in turn, is positively related to employee engagement" (p. 2). More importantly, the researchers found that the “relationship is significantly strengthened when employees feel that they are included” (Downey, et al., 2015, p. 20).
Downey, S.N., van der Werff, L., Thomas, K.M., & Plaut, V.C. (2015)
In other words, the research is showing diversity practices are related to employee engagement, but diversity plus inclusion is key to employee engagement. This will come as no surprise to those of in the diversity and inclusion field. We don’t need a survey to tell us this is true. Just walk into an office environment and look around at the employees. Which ones are actively participating in the everyday hustle of the day, and which ones are just watching the clock?
Inclusion is about making sure all employees have a voice in the company. Downey et al. defines inclusion as “the degree to which employees feel part of essential organizational processes including influence over the decision-making process, involvement in critical work groups, and access to information and resources” (2015, p. 9). Engagement is defined as a persistent affective-cognitive state that produces “a positive, fulfilling, work-related state of mind that is characterized by vigor, dedication, and absorption” (Schaufeli, Martinez, Marques Pinto, Salanova, & Bakker, 2002, p.74). The link between the two is trust. Employees need to feel they work in a trusting environment where they can share their ideas freely, be themselves, and have the support of their employer.
With trust, employees then feel a reciprocal relationship with their employers. This idea goes back to Social Exchange Theory (SET) and engagement acting as a way of “repaying one’s organization in exchange for the amount of career and social related support received” (Maslach, Schaufeli, & Leiter, 2001; Cropanzano & Mitchell, 2005). Employees who feel valued and included are more engaged and give back to their companies.
So, what do you do?
It is important to create a workplace that empowers employees to directly and indirectly contribute to the decision-making of a company. Creating an environment where employees are valued for their diverse perspectives encourages employees to speak up and contribute – resulting in a more engaged and productive work environment. The behaviors, day-to-day decisions, and actions of your employees create your culture, whether that be an exclusionary or inclusive workplace.
Diversity is important, but if you don’t have inclusion, employees won’t contribute their unique perspectives. To encourage engagement you need to make sure all employees from the top of the organization to the incoming new hires are focused on creating an environment where all are heard and valued.
Cropanzano, R., & Mitchell, M. S. (2005). Social exchange theory: An interdisciplinary review. Journal of Management, 31(6), 874-900. doi:10.1177/0149206305279602
Downey, S.N., van der Werff, L., Thomas, K.M., & Plaut, V.C. (2015). The role of diversity practices and inclusion in promoting trust and employee engagement. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 45(1), 35-44.
Maslach, C., Schaufeli, W. B., & Leiter, M. P. (2001). Job burnout. Annual Review of Psychology, 52, 397-422. doi: 10.1146/annurev.psych.52.1.397
Schaufeli, W. B., Martínez, I. M., Marques Pinto, A., Salanova, M., & Bakker, A. B. (2002). Burnout and engagement in university students: A cross-national study. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 33(5), 464-481. doi:10.1177/0022022102033005003