Employers need to do a better job of creating a culture where employees feel comfortable being themselves and speaking their minds if they want to retain and attract top workers, new research suggests.
A study from Deloitte revealed that inclusion plays a critical role in where employees want to work. Specifically, 80 percent of professionals said inclusion is an important factor in choosing an employer.
The researchers define inclusion as a respect and appreciation of differences in demographic characteristics such as race, ethnicity, gender, age, national origin, disability and sexual orientation as well as nondemographic characteristics like religion, education, experiences, communication style or work habits.
"In a race for talent, an inclusive culture can really draw people in and make them stay if it's done right," said Deborah DeHaas, vice chairman and chief inclusion officer of Deloitte, in a statement. "And today, it is a make-or-break for some individuals."
The study found that 72 percent of workers would leave, or at the very least consider leaving, an organization for one that offers the inclusive aspects they are seeking. Nearly one-quarter of those surveyed have already switched employers for this very reason. [Do your employees understand your company culture? Probably not.]
Working for an employer that embraces everyone and makes them feel valued and that they belong is most important to younger employees. More than half of the millennials surveyed said if they could find the same role, they would leave an organization for one with more of the kinds of workplace inclusion features they want.
"In order to ensure that people feel included, organizations should very closely evaluate their current inclusion initiatives to see if the efforts get to the heart of what their employees expect inclusion to be," DeHaas said.
For those who left an employer for a more inclusive one, 33 percent said it was because they did not feel comfortable being themselves at their previous workplace, with 28 percent saying they did not feel comfortable speaking up and expressing opinions. Not experiencing inclusive day-to-day interactions and not being in an environment that provided a sense of purpose or impact were the other top reasons employers switched jobs.
"Because inclusion is so personal, employers should try to understand how inclusion is experienced in their organization," said Deepa Purushothaman, a national managing principal of inclusion at Deloitte. "Organizations should be asking themselves how their business practices impact their employees and take an honest look at whether they have the right workplace culture to make people feel like they belong."
Losing out on top employees is the only negative that can come from a non-inclusive culture. Previous research published in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that when employees feel left out, they tend to act out by lying and cheating.
When workers are faced with a risk of social exclusion, it motivates some pretty unsavory behaviors, said Marie Mitchell, one of the study's authors and a professor of management at the University of Georgia.
"When a person believes that they are at risk for exclusion, they assume that there is something about their personality or their makeup that suggests they're not a valued group member, so they have to do something above and beyond what they're currently doing in order to demonstrate their value to the group," Mitchell said in a statement. "They undermine anybody outside that workgroup, they cheat to enhance their group's performance level, they lie to other workgroups."
Many professionals believe it's not just up to those in charge to create an inclusive environment. Although nearly one-third of those surveyed believe senior leadership has the biggest influence on inclusion in the workplace, an equal amount said everyone in an organization has a role to play.
"Leader behavior and organizational culture both need to evolve and adapt so that everyone understands their individual role in making fellow employees feel included," Purushothaman said.
The vast majority of those surveyed believe it doesn't take programs and lectures to develop an inclusive environment. More than 70 percent of employees prefer an organization with leadership that consistently demonstrates inclusive behaviors over an organization that offers numerous initiatives.
The study was based on surveys of more than 1,300 full-time employees from different-sized companies across the United States.