Covid-19, Brexit, the cost-of-living crisis, climate change disasters across the globe – employees around the world have been coping with a plethora of difficulties in the past few years alone. However, these difficulties are often amplified for diverse workers.
Diverse workers are usually paid less, live with smaller support systems, have access to fewer opportunities and necessary services, and are continually neglected and misunderstood in the workplace.
Here are four simple yet highly effective ways to support your diverse workforce during challenging global events:
- Listen to Individual Concerns & Elicit Feedback
A one-size-fits-all approach rarely works for supporting any group of people, but this is especially the case with diverse individuals. A manager or leader with the best intentions will still miss opportunities to help their direct reports, and may even add to their employees’ burdens by getting involved where they can’t help.
Instead of making assumptions about how to help your workers or replicating an approach that worked previously with other team members, take the time to ask and understand exactly what will be most helpful and beneficial for the individual. The sooner help is provided, the more effective it will be, so contact every employee directly as soon as possible in the case of a sudden world event. Meet in person if you can, but if not try to video call, to ask:
- How are you feeling at the moment? (A simple check-in shows your care and provides the opportunity to explore the problem in the employee’s own words)
- Do you have specific concerns or worries that you’d be comfortable with sharing?
- Can I provide tools, training or flexibility to help you maintain your productivity during times of distraction and difficulty?
- Are there barriers/roadblocks/additional pressures that I can help you remove/reduce to make your working day less stressful?
- What would be most helpful to you regarding work at this moment in time?
- Is there anything specific that I or the company can help with?
Some employees will prefer to deal with some situations by themselves, and there will be other instances where manager help is not needed, but the offer of help will make a huge difference every time. Simply knowing that their manager cares about them and what they’re going through will help your employees feel supported, prevent them from worrying as they know they can come to you if the situation worsens, and further strengthen your working relationship together.
- Turn Listening into Actions
Once you have more information about what would help your employee, turn the information into action. Build a plan of actions to help your team member, including what would be needed and when, and if you need authorisation to enact it, present this to your manager at the first opportunity. Be sure to discuss:
- The situation (in brief to preserve anything confidential)
- The changes you propose eg remote working on specific days, start and finish times 2 hours later than usual company policy, season ticket travel loans, additional unpaid leave
- How these changes will be managed and monitored by you to prevent them from affecting employee productivity and team performance
- The positive impact these changes will have on the employee – the urgent need for these changes.
Requests that deviate from company policy, especially conversations around money and time off, are always uncomfortable and require negotiation. Act as a strong advocate for your employees: when you’ve outlined the plan for their needs, explain your intention to fulfil this plan immediately, request a prompt update from your senior manager if they need to speak to other stakeholders or consult policy further, and work with your manager to remove obstacles in the way of your plan. Biting the bullet and acting as a champion for your employee is the best strategy and will more quickly secure the changes your employee needs.
- Proactive Planning
Whilst events like the Ukraine war and natural disasters can’t be predicted, the impact on the diverse communities affected can be anticipated and planned for in advance. With 80% of disabilities being acquired between the ages of 18 and 64 – encompassing the majority of the workforce – and disabled people being significantly worse impacted by world events in terms of finance, safety, access to services and support networks, employers can make a huge difference to the lives of disabled employees with a dedicated policy.
The best policies will incorporate feedback and advice from existing disabled employees, but will include detailed options for additional flexibility, paid leave, financial assistance, travel methods, training, tools and equipment. Having a policy in place means anyone who already has or acquires a disability can immediately find out what support their employer will provide them and what they need to do to access this support.
As diverse individuals from all backgrounds and groups are disproportionately affected by war, climate disasters and government cuts, individual policies that consider and accommodate the needs of each diverse group will best help employees access support during difficult times. With diverse individuals also much more likely to be affected by mental health challenges, companies can proactively anticipate needs by training a dedicated Mental Health First Aider to be on hand for specialist knowledge and advice in emergencies and whenever needed.
- Wellbeing Benefits Programme
Most large companies and many SMEs already operate extensive benefits programmes, however targeting these towards wellbeing for diverse employees can help anticipate needs before they arise. A comprehensive benefits package that truly helps diverse employees will include:
- Employee Assistance – Fast access to counselling 24/7, in person or virtually wherever your employee is in the world. This is particularly key for diverse individuals, who are much less likely to have the emotional support of family networks, and who are much more likely to be vulnerable to exploitation and discrimination during disasters and economic shifts across the globe.
- Private Healthcare – Covering antenatal and postnatal care for pregnant women, transition surgery and associated costs for transgender employees, and reimbursement for care related to disability and long-term sickness. Extending private healthcare to partners regardless of marital status is also inclusive of age and sexual orientation.
- Additional Paid Leave – Female staff members are much more likely to be affected by childcare needs, pregnancy-related illness, pregnancy loss, menopause and other long-term illnesses, which can be supported through additional paid leave and flexibility. Shared parental leave also enables fathers and LGBT+ couples to best support partners with childcare needs.
- Financial Assistance – Season ticket loans for annual or monthly travelling, earlier paydays and other interest-free loans. Childcare vouchers and discounts are often life-changing for diverse individuals who on average are paid less than non-diverse colleagues and have more caring responsibilities requiring them to travel more and spend more on unpaid care work.
- Exercise Packages – Subscriptions for yoga, free gym memberships and sports clubs help diverse employees take charge of their own physical and mental health.
- Cycle to Work Scheme – Remove commuting costs altogether by providing significant discounts on bikes and repairs, with business costs supported by the UK Government.
- Flexibility – Reduce commuting costs and free up employees’ time by three hours a day on average with hybrid and remote working options. Flexible working hours help neurodiverse employees better match their workload to the times when they have the most energy and focus, and the ability to start and finish early can help disabled employees significantly shorten their longer travel times to preserve energy for work and health.
A comprehensive Diversity & Inclusion Strategy, created bespoke to your business challenges and your employee base, is the best way to plan for and support the needs of your diverse workforce, come what may.