Creating a Positive Work Environment: A Guide for Employers

People naturally seek out places where they feel heard, included and appreciated—and the workplace is no different. In fact, job seekers often make a point to choose diverse and inclusive workplaces. As an employer, you can meet this need by making your company a place where employees feel accepted and able to express their individuality.

 

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What makes an inclusive workplace?

Your workplace is inclusive when all employees are treated equally and respectfully, and each person has the same access to company resources and opportunities. Truly inclusive companies don’t hire diverse employees just for the sake of diversity—they understand that different perspectives add value to the team and the business.

 

Executives and managers of an inclusive company work to ensure all employees feel welcome. They appreciate the unique qualities, talents and traits that each person brings to the table.

Benefits of inclusion at the workplace

Everyone in your company—and the company itself—benefits from an inclusive work environment. Inclusively creates a positive team culture, which can:

 

  • Increase employee retention rates
  • Boost employee morale
  • Improve engagement
  • Attract high-quality talent

When employees feel comfortable and safe, they’re more likely to come forward with the unique ideas, perspectives and insights that inspire innovation. These creative solutions can help your company increase profits and stimulate growth.

 

Related: A Guide to Fostering Ethical Workplaces

How to increase inclusion in the workplace

As a leader, you can emphasize the importance of an inclusive workplace and implement strategies and resources to make all employees feel valued.

 

1. Implement programs and policies that celebrate differences in the workplace

Official policies are a good way to codify your company’s commitment to inclusion in the workplace. They clarify your position, lay out expectations and set boundaries for behavior. Examples include an:

 

  • Equal opportunity policy to prevent discrimination
  • Employee conduct policy that prohibits aggression and harassment
  • Standard promotion and pay raise policy
  • Disciplinary policy that applies equally to everyone 
  • Complaint policy

Once you have policies in place, back them up with action. This shows that you’re not simply paying lip service to the idea of inclusion—you’re serious. For ideas, consider these examples of inclusion in the workplace:

 

  • Offer break room snacks and company lunches that satisfy employeee dietary restrictions rising from religious affiliations or physical health needs.
  • Provide an anonymous feedback system so employees can report instances of discrimination or exclusion.
  • Encourage employees to use preferred pronouns and neutral terminology like “spouse” or “partner.”
  • Make sure all entryways and office areas are accessible for people with disabilities.
  • Be flexible and accommodate and support employees’ family, religious, cultural, personal and health needs. Examples include providing parental and adoption leave to all new parents and granting access to breastfeeding rooms for new mothers.
  • Offer paid time off to volunteer to encourage employees to participate in causes they care about.

2. Ask employees how you can support them

Communicate your desire to build a more inclusive company culture—then, ask employees to return the favor. Encourage them to come to you with any concerns or suggestions for making the workplace more inclusive and comfortable for everyone. You can also find ideas for representing and including employees by:

 

  • Holding brainstorming sessions
  • Implementing an open-door policy
  • Creating an anonymous comment box or online feedback form

Take employee suggestions seriously; use them to create new policies, programs or systems. Alternatively, work together to find solutions.

 

3. Hold inclusive and respectful meetings

Employees spend a great deal of time in meetings. Try these strategies to make them more inclusive:

 

  • Distribute agendas and materials in advance. That way, people with learning disabilities or those who speak English as a second language have more time to prepare.
  • Offer everyone the chance to speak. Ask for input from each person, and don’t allow a few people to dominate the conversation. This ensures that minority groups and opinions get equal consideration.
  • Encourage risk-taking. Create a no-judgment zone for ideas and different perspectives. You never know what innovations might arise.
  • Distribute credit and praise equally. Recognize employees’ accomplishments and contributions.

4. Create an inclusion council

An inclusion council is a dedicated team of leaders and employees who are committed to diversity. Its goal is to implement policies, activities and training courses that make employees feel appreciated and accepted. Fill this council with diverse team members to maximize innovation and creativity.

 

Your inclusion council can come up with ideas to:

 

  • Make the hiring process more inclusive
  • Monitor diversity in the workforce
  • Give underrepresented employees a voice
  • Help employees feel more comfortable
  • Celebrate the backgrounds and identities of employees

5. Create resource groups for employees

Resource groups offer a great way to help your employees feel connected to each other and the company. Create groups for employees who share similar qualities and backgrounds; they can become a safe place to build friendships, discuss any challenges they’re facing and share advice.

 

Potential resource groups may be:

 

  • Culture, race and ethnicity-based
  • Women in the workplace
  • LGBTQ+ employees
  • Single parents
  • Religion or faith-based

Related: Changing the Organizational Culture of Your Business

 

6. Educate leadership on the importance of inclusivity in the workplace

Your leaders and executives are the most influential people in your company. Use that to your advantage by making sure they’re leading by example. Encourage them to attend diversity and inclusion training; then, ask them to put the principles they learn into action. When your executives and managers practice workplace inclusion on a daily basis, other employees will follow suit.

How to create an inclusive hiring and onboarding process

Once you’ve implemented inclusively in the workplace, you can direct your efforts to the hiring and onboarding process. Inclusive recruiting strategies can help you find diverse candidates; inclusive onboarding primes new employees to become a part of your welcoming company culture.

 

1. Set diversity goals and find strategies to meet them

Set diversity goals to ensure that HR makes inclusion a top priority. Ways to bring in diverse candidates include:

 

  • Identifying the skills you need rather than a prescribed career path
  • Considering applicants from different educational backgrounds
  • Expanding your job posting strategy to reach new cultural groups
  • Welcoming applicants of all ages
  • Reaching out to community groups to find more candidates

2. Mention your commitment to diversity and inclusion on hiring and marketing materials

Before they apply for a job at your company, most applicants will check out your website and review your recruiting materials. Make sure your diversity and inclusion policy is front and center so candidates know that you take inclusion seriously.

 

When you’re direct about your commitment to inclusion, you can attract candidates who share the same values. More importantly, you can encourage people from underrepresented groups to apply; they’ll feel safe and excited to work in an environment that’s accepting of their background, identity and personality.

 

3. Integrate diversity and inclusion training into the onboarding process

If you offer training for new employees, add diversity and inclusion education into the mix. This can establish employee expectations and help new team members learn to be inclusive at work. They can gain the awareness and understanding they need to integrate into the team and treat everyone with respect.

 

Topics for inclusivity training might include:

 

  • Respecting employee differences
  • Appropriate and inappropriate language
  • Appreciating other perspectives
  • Overcoming stereotypes
  • Accommodating people with different abilities

4. Help employees get to know new hires

Help your new hires feel included from the beginning by sending out optional questionnaires. Add questions about their hometown, hobbies and pronoun preferences. With permission, share their answers with your team. This simple process can provide conversation starters and help new employees feel less like strangers.

 

Consider adding the open-ended question, “Is there anything you’d like your new colleagues to know about you?” This gives new employees the chance to share important information to help ease the transition. They might mention special dietary needs, religious requirements or special accommodations they need at work. Some people will jump at the opportunity—it can be a way to avoid stares or awkward explanations.

 

If you decide to use a questionnaire, make sure new hires know that participation is optional, and they have the freedom to provide as many or as few details as they like.

FAQs about an inclusive workplace

What are some inclusion in the workplace examples?

Inclusivity can be a vague concept. Some concrete examples of workplace inclusion are:

 

  • Building conference rooms with space for wheelchairs
  • Celebrating a wide range of holidays
  • Incorporating employee needs into your products or services
  • Writing dress codes that allow personal, cultural and religious expression
  • Hiring diverse guest speakers and trainers

What are some examples of inclusive behaviors?

An inclusive workplace requires employees and managers to behave in an open and welcoming way. Some behaviors that demonstrate inclusion are:

 

  • Showing interest in people’s differences. Ask questions if you feel comfortable, but don’t push for information.
  • Respecting boundaries. Apologize when you make a mistake or cross a line, and change your behavior in the future. Be willing to be uncomfortable in the process.
  • Listening carefully to colleagues. Don’t assume they share your beliefs, and learn from their unique ideas. If you use their input, give credit accordingly. 
  • Helping others have a voice. If you see someone being excluded—intentionally or unintentionally—find a way to bring them into the conversation. Make sure all groups are represented in meetings and decisions.
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