Talent Retention in the Diverse Workplace
Most managers have come to understand the many benefits that a diverse workforce can bring to an organization. When members of an organization bring different views of the world to their work, firms typically benefit from increased adaptability, a wider range of ideas, and the ability to serve a larger customer base. In the Middle East, the flow of expatriates coupled with recent moves towards the greater incorporation of national human capital resources implies that firms will increasingly need to find ways to take advantage of the potential while navigating possible pitfalls. The challenges of effectively managing a mobile and multiethnic population are certainly not going away.
Recent research into employee turnover has found time and again that workers tend to stay with organizations where they feel comfortable and valued. While not the only factor that plays into lengthening employee tenure with an employer, firms have an incentive to create welcoming environments given the large cost associated with turnover. For example, in recent studies reported in Forbes, nearly half of the reasons behind employees’ decisions to leave were associated with personal connections i.e., my organization cares about me, my opinions are respected, etc. These findings reinforce various research traditions that have shown the importance of individualized consideration for increasing organizational commitment, desirable citizenship behaviors, and productivity.
At a recent training seminar on diversity, a colleague told a story about an employee referring to an idea as “retarded”, a derogatory term for mental illness. As the story unfolded, we learned that a colleague was having serious challenges caring for a son with such a disability, but had never shared that information with her group. She was offended and hurt by the comment. In this case, insensitivity in language use created an environment with negative consequences for team cohesion.
There are several steps that an HR team can initiate to improve cultural environment in the workforce. This list is not meant to be exhaustive, but rather as an initial step to think about ways to improve the climate in your organization.
- Examining Assumptions and Biases – the perceptions of a hostile work environment are often associated with communication and behaviors that stem from largely unexamined assumptions. While these help us navigate our everyday surroundings, certain biases can also offend. Encouraging employees to think through the meaning of what they are saying in a multicultural context can reduce the amount of potential friction among team members.
- The Nature of Microaggression – insults, dismissals and demeaning tasks can lead to members of a group in organization feeling denigrated and even threatened. Psychologists have catalogued a wide variety of behaviors directed towards women, minority races, religious groups, age differences, etc. that lead to negative affect. Once employees have reflected on their assumptions, they may find that what they do or say devalues colleagues in ways they may have never considered.
- Correcting Behavior – the most effective way to cultivate change at the micro level is to train leaders at all ranks to intervene in constructive ways immediately upon witnessing negative behaviors or language use. This can be difficult for managers who face many demands on their time or those who tend to avoid conflict. Proper training in techniques like turning situations around to demonstrate the potential harm to others can be taught with minimal time and can be effective in illuminating how to interact with people in a less conflictual manner.
- Leadership – it should come as no surprise that overall climate in the organization depends greatly upon support and reinforcement from the top management team setting the right tone. It is important that diversity becomes an integral part of what the organization does, setting the parameters for effective dialogue and accountability at all levels. If such efforts are seen as only cosmetic or mere rhetoric, they will not be effective in creating a more inclusive and positive workplace environment.
In conclusion, if your organization has an issue retaining talent, but it does not seem to be an issue of pay, the nature of the work, future opportunities, or overt conflict with a supervisor, it might be that unexamined assumptions and behaviors are creating a subtly unwelcoming environment. Training leaders and employees how to interact respectfully and productively across dimensions of difference will allow you to fully unleash the potential of the human capital in your organization.
Jeffrey A. Kappen, PhD
Bâton Global LLC