The pandemic changed everything, and for most employee segments, it deeply affected their sense of belonging and inclusion. Against the backdrop of a “war for talent” and record-high quit rate, employees now demand flexibility, space, support, and trust from their organizations.
However, data from a newly released report from professional and personal coaching company BetterUp shows that organizations are struggling to meet these new expectations.
Belonging — a leading indicator of both intent to stay and performance — is suffering the consequences, with employee belonging at an all-time low. Despite improvements in productivity, employees feel more excluded at work than at any time since the pandemic began.
The “Redefining Inclusive Leadership” report shares insights based on 10,000+ members engaged in virtual coaching to better understand how individuals are navigating their organizations and their lives — before, during, and after the pandemic.
Representing all industries and functions and organizations large and small, the data provide a window into the unique differences, challenges, and needs of populations impacted by the pandemic, including underrepresented minorities, women, working parents, and those in hybrid work environments.
Here are some of the key findings from the report and ways businesses can focus their efforts to equip frontline managers to lead in an inclusive way that drives sustained impact, change, and results across your entire organization.
1. Managers are vital to promoting inclusive leadership
Perhaps no group can create a more sustained and immediate impact on inclusion for your employees than front-line managers. To support their teams, managers need to relearn key mindsets and behaviors to lead people in the new world of work. Traditional approaches to diversity and inclusion often place the burden of advocating and affecting change on the underrepresented group. Dr. Erin Eatough, the occupational health psychologist and behavioral science manager at BetterUp who authored the report, noted that “when we equip managers with inclusive leadership skills like relationship building, recognition, empathy, and social connection, the whole organization experiences the ripple effect of belonging — and barriers to creativity, collaboration, and performance can be overcome.”
2. Underrepresented groups need more psychological safety
BetterUp found that underrepresented groups are 1.6x more likely to have low belonging, and because of this, they are at higher risk of attrition than their peers. The data suggest one solution: Focus on psychological safety. Findings suggest that vast improvements in intent to stay and other vital metrics occur when managers lead inclusively. Without inclusive leadership, we risk losing talent and creating a more homogeneous workforce at just the moment when we need a diversity of ideas, perspectives, and approaches to drive performance and innovation in an increasingly complex environment.
3. Women and parents need more support than ever
With varying and unpredictable school closures, a general lack of child care options, and uncertainty around work-from-home arrangements, parents, especially women, face unique, ongoing challenges. Many are opting to leave the workforce or are being forced out entirely in what has been dubbed the “shecession.” For women, the most frequently discussed topic with their BetterUp coaches was career planning. For parents, the most frequently discussed topics in coaching are stress management and self-care. This reflects the different support needed for these groups.
However, inclusive leaders have a positive impact for both women and parents. When managers recognized and supported the unique challenges of these individuals through the pandemic, it buffered the negative impacts. When it comes to well-being, feeling supported at work was associated with a 17 percent boost in women’s actual well-being since the pandemic began and a 28 percent boost for parents.
4. Different work arrangements have different benefits
Eatough also shared that “more employees now prefer a hybrid work environment or to have the option to work remotely. How your managers lead these new hybrid teams directly impacts organizational performance, employee intent to stay, overall well-being, and more.”
In the short term (two weeks or less), the impacts of changing work arrangements are generally unremarkable. But in the long term (six months or longer), there are notable impacts on productivity, resilience, and well-being under different working conditions. Fully remote work brings small benefits to productivity, resilience, and well-being. Full-time, in-office work tends to offer a notable benefit for resilience — a skill that helps people bounce back from setbacks. But hybrid (part-time remote, part-time in-office) work has a disproportionately high impact on well-being. Hybrid work appears to provide a distinct well-being advantage for employees.
But shifting into new work arrangements has its challenges too. Hybrid workers have differentially high rates of coaching around strategic management and leading others, whereas remote work shifts are associated with a higher rate of focus on career development than other shifts, signaling career concerns rise to the top for those shifting into fully remote work.
With the “great resignation” in full swing, employees are increasingly calling the shots — and their expectations have changed dramatically. As a result, organizations must commit to investing in helping their frontline managers relearn skills that will enable them address the new, unique needs of their teams. Different populations face unique challenges and so too do those adjusting to new forms and ways of work. To navigate this new world of work, organizations need a new kind of inclusive leadership that amplifies sensitivity to these new needs.