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Inclusive Benefits: The Role of Employee Benefits in Fostering Workplace Diversity

A diverse team will have equally diverse needs from their workplace. For companies that want to foster an inclusive workplace for employees of all backgrounds and identities, offering a variety of benefits can promote this better than a one-size-fits-all policy.

“Each employee’s circumstances differ and having the ability to select a benefit program that suits their needs is definitely a draw,” says Jessica Alcock, Recruitment Manager in Summit’s Toronto office.

This was the overarching theme of a recent conversation about the relationship between employee benefits and workplace diversity. Managing Partner Matt Erhard explained, “A company should offer a vast range of benefits to attract a diverse workforce, including but not limited to health and wellness programs, flexible work schedules, parental leave, and professional development opportunities. Competitive salary structures, inclusive policies, and a commitment to work-life balance also play crucial roles in attracting and retaining a diverse talent pool.”

Of course, not every employer can reasonably offer this full array of benefits. The question then becomes: which benefits are the most critical for organizations that want to build and maintain a diverse workforce—and how can HR teams convince leadership that they’re worth the expense? Here are some insights from the Summit team that can help business owners and human resources professionals to answer these questions.

Top benefits for promoting workplace diversity

Gallup recently highlighted some key workplace trends for 2024 based on their most recent round of employee and manager surveys. Some of their relevant findings include:

  • Nearly half (44%) of employees feel significant stress at work on a daily basis
  • Over half (59%) of remote-capable employees prefer hybrid work environments, as opposed to only 6% who prefer to work on-site
  • Only 22% of surveyed managers believe their organization cares about their overall well-being, while 55% are watching for or actively seeking a new role

Employers who want to build an engaged and diverse workforce should pay attention to these trends as they’re deciding what benefits to offer. Workplace flexibility, wellness programs, and similar benefits can help to address some of these concerning figures, particularly when it comes to reducing worker stress and demonstrating to employees that your organization is invested in their well-being.

It’s worth noting this isn’t just useful for diversity and inclusion. Employees of all backgrounds are more likely to stay, and stay engaged, in an organization where they feel like they belong. With that in mind, here are three top benefits the Summit team sees as contributing to a better workplace environment for employees from all backgrounds and identities.

Flexible work arrangements

“Flexible work arrangements continue to be a deal breaker for many,” Jessica Alcock says. “Candidates are still seeking remote or hybrid opportunities that provide some kind of flexibility. Vacation and flexible holidays that acknowledge cultural diversity are also important to many. Recently, I have had a number of candidates ask if employers allow employees to work remotely or out of the country for up to four weeks.”

Recruitment Consultant Serena Milani adds, “Flexible work arrangements like adjustable hours, remote work options, and compressed schedules significantly impact employee inclusion and belonging. By accommodating diverse needs such as family responsibilities or personal preferences, companies create an environment that values individual well-being.”

One benefit of flexibility is that it empowers employees to take control of their own work-life balance, promoting better overall mental health across the team. There are additional benefits to offering this kind of flexibility, as well. As Serena says, “It signals that the organization recognizes and respects the unique circumstances of its workforce. As employees gain the autonomy to structure their work in alignment with personal priorities, job satisfaction and a strong sense of community thrive.”

Holistic health benefits

In a 2022 MetLife survey, holistically healthy employees were 74% more likely to be happy with their jobs. That kind of workplace satisfaction also means they’re more likely to stay with your organization long-term, as well as more likely to serve as a positive brand ambassador, promoting your workplace as an employer for others in their network.

Physical health is part of an employee’s holistic well-being, but it isn’t the entire story. It also includes their mental and emotional well-being, occupational health and safety, and intellectual fulfillment. In short, holistic health sees employees as the complex individuals they are, and that is a solid foundation for creating the belonging that is necessary for an inclusive, diverse workplace.

Jessica Alcock suggests working flexibility into these health and wellness initiatives, as well. As she says, “Offer initiatives that cater to diverse needs. These include, but aren’t limited to, mental health resources, access to fitness programs, health spending accounts, and comprehensive healthcare coverage.”

Education and career advancement

“Opportunities for professional development, mentorship opportunities, and training initiatives are important to many as well,” says Jessica Alcock. This is especially critical for employees from historically marginalized groups, who often lack allies and representation in the leadership of an organization.

The more diverse your leadership, the more likely candidates from under-represented backgrounds will feel like they can grow a career with your company. This, in turn, will make it easier to attract and keep a variety of different perspectives in your team.

A survey from Heidrick & Struggles found that 75% of minority respondents participated in workplace mentorship programs. It has historically been more challenging for marginalized professionals to connect with informal mentorship, making these formal programs offered by employers a very valuable benefit.

Matt Erhard adds that training in cultural sensitivity and affinity groups can foster an inclusive environment. The benefits of these programs are two-fold. There is the obvious benefit that it increases cultural sensitivity and awareness, helping to reduce unconscious bias, microaggressions, and other challenges that underrepresented groups often experience in the workplace.

In addition, offering this kind of education demonstrates to candidates from minority groups that your organization is committed to diversity, inclusion, and equity. This, in turn, can make them more likely to apply for open positions with your company, at the same time it creates a workplace where they’ll feel more comfortable.

Getting leadership buy-in for inclusive benefits

One issue many organizations face in implementing more comprehensive benefits is that these programs have an inevitable cost. Convincing leadership that these items are worth the expense can be a challenge.

Mariah Beahen, a Recruitment Consultant in Summit’s Calgary office, suggests demonstrating to executives how a more inclusive workplace can save them money in the long-term. “Educate leadership on the cost of hiring and training new employees. Hiring a new employee is costly, let alone the other negative consequences an open seat has on the organization. Improving retention of current team members will prove a worthwhile investment in the long term.”

There is ample data to back up this assertion. According to Glassdoor, the average company in the United States spends about $4,000 to hire a new employee, and takes up to 52 days to fill a position. Data from Indeed puts those costs at between $4,000 and $20,000, not including their salary and benefits.

Along with reducing potential hiring costs, offering inclusive benefits can allow your organization to get more out of the team it has. A 2020 Gallup poll found a strong correlation between engagement and several key business metrics, with engaged employees having 81% lower absenteeism rates and 18% higher productivity. Organizations with strong engagement also had lower turnover, less shrinkage, and higher overall profitability.

Using data to show the connection between benefits, engagement, and business performance is often the most effective way to get buy-in for these initiatives. Here are some other strategies that can help:

  • Find an advocate for your initiatives on the leadership team
  • Understand the key factors impacting leadership decision-making and appeal to them on those points
  • Be willing to negotiate and adapt in response to leadership rejections
  • Enter the conversation with clear goals for the initiative, as well as a clearly defined plan for how these benefits will help to achieve those goals

Convincing executives to invest in the team can feel like an uphill battle when budgets are tight. Ultimately, however, that kind of investment is the best way to develop, not just your team’s diversity, but the long-term retention of an engaged workforce.

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