What Is the State of Inclusion in the Workplace?
February 12, 2024
February 12, 2024
Research from both the O.C. Tanner Institute and other sources has consistently shown that when companies value diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I), there are great payoffs: not only are employees happier, but companies that value inclusion tend to outperform their competition as well. However, in our 2021 Global Culture Report study (which surveyed employees in the year 2020), only 44% said that their organizations’ DE&I efforts felt sincere. In the two years since, has anything changed?
Fortunately, we have some evidence that organizations are making progress when it comes to DE&I efforts. The O.C. Tanner Institute research surveyed employees across the world last month (May 2022) about their opinions on their employers’ approaches to DE&I initiatives. In our most recent survey, 66% of employees responded that they felt their organizations’ DE&I initiatives were genuine. This is good news for both employees and organizations. For example, organizations that have “authentic and genuine” approaches to DE&I initiatives are much more likely to be thriving when compared to their peers.
66% of employees responded feel their organizations’ DE&I initiatives are genuine.
Further, when organizations take a sincere approach to DE&I, non-minoritized employees have a 105% increased probability of having a positive employee experience while employees who identify as minoritized in some way (generally speaking) have a 290% increased probability of having a positive employee experience. In short, everyone benefits when organizations make DE&I a priority!
As it's used here, holding a "minoritized" identity status refers to identification with a group or groups that have been historically excluded and/or marginalized in the workplace (for example, due to ethnicity, gender, disability, or some other identity or identities).
However, we also have evidence that there is still more work to do. For example, some groups of employees (including transgender employees and those paid hourly) were significantly less likely to agree that DE&I initiatives felt genuine. Also, while 66% of employees agreed that efforts felt sincere, another 34% of surveyed employees did not agree. Though there seems to have been some improvement generally speaking, organizations should continue working toward creating inclusive workplace environments in order to realize the benefits of inclusion when it comes to organizational culture.
In the last two years, employee burnout has soared. Could prioritizing DE&I be a remedy?
Despite organizations everywhere acclimating to the “new normal” of work brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, research is showing that burnout and stress are currently at an all-time high among workers in a variety of professions. Although many factors are contributing to this burnout, one under-reported aspect that may make a difference is organizations’ approaches to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I).
For example, past O.C. Tanner Institute research has found that when organizations have DE&I programs that employees believe are ineffective, it increases moderate to severe burnout 44%. We’ve also found that when leaders respond well to DE&I issues, burnout decreases. For example, our 2021 Global Culture Report study found that employees with leaders who respond well to instances of discrimination at work have a -34% decrease in moderate to severe burnout. Do these patterns still hold today?
In short, yes. In a recent O.C. Tanner institute research survey (May 2022), we found that when organizations prioritize DE&I, it has a positive impact on employee burnout. For example, we found that when organizations take a unified approach to DE&I, there is a 38% reduction in odds of moderate to severe burnout.
Similarly, when senior leaders prioritize DE&I, we found a 46% reduction in the odds of burnout. Most strikingly, employees who attested that their team members also prioritized DE&I had a 50% reduction in the odds of burnout. Thus, prioritizing DE&I can be one way to combat burnout issues! However, it was not all good news: we also found that compared to their peers, minoritized employees were about 2.4x more likely to be experiencing moderate to severe burnout even in light of organizational commitment to DE&I.
When organizations take a unified approach to DE&I, there is a 38% reduction in odds of moderate to severe burnout. When senior leaders prioritize DE&I, there is a 46% reduction, and when team members prioritize DE&I, there is a 50% reduction in odds of burnout.
What do these latest numbers tell us? For one, prioritizing DE&I has a positive impact on employee burnout overall. Yet at the same time, given the disproportionate impact of burnout on minoritized employees, it seems that there may be additional steps that organizations can take to alleviate burnout for minoritized employees in particular. Prioritizing DE&I is just one part of a larger strategy. In the next post in this series, I’ll talk about additional steps that organizations can take toward cultivating an inclusive workplace that sets up all employees to thrive.
“Belonging” is receiving attention as an important part of the employee experience. What is “belonging” and how does it relate to diversity, equity, and inclusion at work?
Though conversations around diversity, equity, and inclusion at work are not new, more recently, an additional component is receiving more attention: belonging.
“Belonging” may be defined in different ways, but our team likes to think of it as the feeling that employees have as a result of experiencing inclusion at work. The conversations around belonging have become so prevalent that the acronym “DE&I” seems to increasingly be represented as “DEIB” (the “B” signifying “belonging”). Belonging is also an important component of DE&I initiatives because our past research has found that employees who identify as “different” in some way are generally less likely to feel a sense of belonging at work—and this disparity can make for an unsatisfying employee experience. If we think of belonging as the desired outcome of inclusion initiatives, what is the actual impact of DE&I on belonging, especially for employees who are minoritized in the workplace?
In our most recent (May 2022) surveys, we’ve found that prioritizing DE&I has a notable impact on feelings of belonging, particularly for employees who are minoritized (broadly defined). For example, among “minority”-identified employees, there is a 212% increased probability in a strong sense of belonging at work when employers’ DE&I initiatives feel authentic and genuine. When organizations, leaders, and teams also prioritize DE&I in their work, “minority”-identified employees’ probability of belonging also jumps. For instance, senior leadership committing to DE&I increases the probability of feeling belonging 147% among minoritized employees.
These results are significant, especially given the importance of feelings of belonging for employee outcomes. For instance, employees who feel a sense of belonging have a whopping -92% decreased odds of moderate to severe burnout. Organizations also reap the benefits of belonging as well. Employees who feel a sense of belonging are 15x more likely to recommend their companies as great places to work and 12x more likely to say they have a strong desire to be working at their current organizations a year from now.
Employees who feel a sense of belonging are 15x more likely to recommend their companies as great places to work and 12x more likely to say they have a strong desire to be working at their current organizations a year from now.
Our evidence shows that “belonging” isn’t just hype: it is an important outcome of diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. Belonging results in positive outcomes for both employees and organizations alike. Further, DE&I initiatives, when done well, have a notable impact on the employee experience for minoritized employees who may be most likely to feel a diminished sense of belonging at work.
Poorly-executed DE&I initiatives have a negative impact on employee engagement. What is the impact of well-done initiatives?
Both O.C. Tanner Institute research as well as research from other scholars has consistently found that higher employee engagement tends to relate to positive outcomes. Conversely, diminished engagement is not ideal. And when it comes to DE&I initiatives, missteps can have consequences: for instance, our own past research has found that poorly-executed DE&I initiatives (such as those that employees find superficial, for example) result in a -78% decrease in engagement among employees. But what impact can well-done initiatives have on engagement?
Our recent (May 2022) survey research found that when organizations prioritize DE&I, both minoritized and non-minoritized employees benefit from an engagement standpoint. For instance, when their direct leaders demonstrate a strong commitment to DE&I at work, non-minoritized employees have 149% increased probability of engagement, and minoritized employees have a 255% increased probability of engagement.
In addition, when DE&I initiatives feel “authentic” and “genuine” to employees, non-minoritized employees have a 195% increased probability of engagement while minoritized employees have a striking 533% increased probability of engagement. More engagement is good, because engaged employees have a 7x greater odds of producing great work (which benefits both organizations and individual employees). Further, to link back the findings here to one of my previous posts, belonging is another way to access employee engagement. Employees who feel a sense of belonging are 13x more likely to be engaged. In sum, well-done approaches to DE&I help support more engagement among employees, which also relates to greater feelings of belonging and, ultimately, more great work.
When DE&I initiatives feel “authentic” and “genuine”, non-minoritized employees have a 195% increased probability of engagement while minoritized employees have a striking 533% increased probability of engagement.
Prioritizing DE&I is an important part of the equation when it comes to fostering employee engagement. Organizations need to demonstrate that they take DE&I seriously by, for instance, making a sincere and swift effort to act on employee suggestions for change. Showing employees that DE&I is a priority goes a long way toward fostering an organizational culture where employees feel they belong and thrive.
Dr. Cristen Dalessandro Senior Researcher, O.C. Tanner Institute
Cristen Dalessandro is a senior researcher and sociologist at O.C. Tanner, specializing in the study of social inequalities as well as qualitative and quantitative research methods. As part of the O.C. Tanner Institute, she conducts client assessment projects and researches employee experience and workplace culture through a social-science lens.
Cristen holds a PhD from the University of Colorado Boulder and completed her postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Utah. She is the author of over 20 articles in peer-reviewed journals. Her recent book, Intimate Inequalities: Millennials’ Romantic Relationships in Contemporary Times, explores how millennials navigate social and identity differences in their relationships.