by Priyanka Kumar, Engagement Manager, Zinnov; Nivedita Nanjappa, Project Lead, Zinnov; Priyanka Oza, Consultant, Zinnov; Mohammed Faraz Khan, Principal & Head – G.A.P Practice, Zinnov; Apeksha Atal, Independent Contributor
I&D in the ‘New Normal’
The pandemic has upended our lifestyles, forcing us to adapt to completely unfamiliar experiences. Be it the debilitating physical impact of recovering from COVID-19, isolation-induced depression and fatigue, or the anxiety and helplessness of an uncertain future – struggles that used to be foreign to the ‘average’ person, have now barged through our front doors, giving us a glimpse into the experiences that diverse and minority communities live through every single day.
This humanization of physical disabilities, mental health, socio-economic and livelihood challenges, etc., has brought new facets of inclusivity to the fore, that need to be addressed. Therefore, the ‘New Normal’ workplace has essentially become a spectrum. The scope of inclusion now taps into key human elements such as empathy, respect, belonging, etc., and is no longer limited to being representation- and recognition-focused. Inclusion and Diversity (I&D) strategies need to evolve beyond just segments of employees, to address sentiments towards all employees. The onus is on the organizations to foster a more inclusive environment while streamlining some effective measures to thrive in the ‘New Normal.’
So, what bold measures can organizations take to ensure that they are fostering this evolved approach to inclusion? What can I&D champions and leaders do to build a more inclusive culture, especially in a distributed workplace model?
5 Key I&D Best Practices in Times of a Crisis
With organizations handling an increasingly remote and/or distributed workforce in the post-pandemic workplace, leaders will need to redefine their strategies and subsequent implementation. 5 key best practices have emerged from Zinnov’s COVID-19 Response Analysis of 50+ leading organizations across the country, which will help to further I&D strategies in the ‘New Normal.’
1. Equal Access to Resources
When the pandemic first hit, the immediate priority for organizations across the globe was an efficient transition to remote working. This predominantly involved providing ergonomic infrastructure support to their workforce. Today, however, the priority has entirely shifted. While no one has been left unscathed by India’s second wave, the impact on diverse groups, families with single bread earners, and those in non-metro and rural locations has been disproportionately higher. Hence, truly inclusive organizations have been actively leveraging their business network and administrative capabilities to bridge this gap within their community.
‘Accessibility’ has transcended physical proximity to consider employees’ demographic and socio-economic circumstances, and ‘resources’ have come to mean life-saving medical and financial ones.
A. Medical Resources
- Traditional Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) have taken on a new facade during this time, with 99% of surveyed organizations mobilizing COVID-19 care support through internal employee-driven “Task Forces” to source medications, ambulances, ICU beds, etc., pan-India.
- Further, the leveraging of administrative capabilities for ambulances, “war rooms,” food delivery, and cleaning services has been a noteworthy effort. A leading Software & Internet GCoE is providing fully equipped isolation wards to their critical support staff who are at the frontline of these efforts, to protect them and their families.
- That being said, organizations need to be cognizant of the threat/impact of hoarding critical resources that they are able to procure. For example, out of the 59% of organizations that have been providing COVID care/oxygen beds, less than 40% of them are opening unused beds to the community in need.
- ‘Inoculation for Prevention’ has become the mantra, with the business community playing an instrumental role in enabling COVID-19 vaccinations through free/subsidized drives. While some organizations are looking at tackling the access issue by forming consortiums to procure vaccines, both from Indian and global manufacturers, others are taking the ‘wait & watch’ route and relying on providing reimbursements for now.
- Instead of mandating the vaccines for employees, leading organizations have rolled out incentives such as extra days off and gift vouchers to encourage vaccination. Inclusivity has been reflected in the following initiatives:
- Adopting multiple vaccination modalities and a multi-vendor approach to reach a distributed workforce;
- Beneficiaries spanning a minimum of 2 family members, all support staff as well as contract employees; and
- Coverage of vaccination cost.
- Other I&D initiatives include enabling the inoculation of high-risk and minority communities in India. Great Place to Work (GPTW) India, Adventures Beyond Barriers Foundation (ABBF), and Great Manager Institute have come together to launch a nationwide volunteer-driven COVID-19 vaccination drive for Persons with Disabilities (PwD).
B. Extended Financial Support
- The focus on socio-economic diversity has been on the uptick, especially with the crippling expenditures that COVID-19 treatment has resulted in. Organizations have been making concerted efforts to provide crucial financial aid to those employees whose livelihoods have been affected during the pandemic, with medical insurance support being the most popular.
- In the unfortunate incident of an employee’s demise, especially if they were the sole bread earner of the family, truly inclusive organizations have committed to providing salaries to their families until retirement age and/or providing job opportunities through Returnship Programs for their next of kin.
2. Welcoming Well-being
Pre-pandemic, mental health had been slowly gaining prominence as a focus area for mature organizations. However, this need has surged significantly in the last year, making it a key facet of an inclusive culture. Aggravators such as unbearable loss and grief, fatigue, isolation, anxiety, etc., have affected employees at an unprecedented magnitude over the last 12-15 months.
More and more organizations are providing mental health leaves, promoting awareness campaigns, and facilitating uncomfortable conversations to destigmatize mental health issues. The Times of India and American Express came together to host the “Healthy Minds Program,” a series of webinars about mental health and the tangible steps one can take to address it.
71% of organizations are also collaborating with counselors or mental health partners to address concerns, provide stress management techniques, and initiate mindfulness programs. Dell Technologies, for example, took a strong stance on mental health by launching the “Dell Wellness Hub.”
3. Inclusive Policies
While there has been a dramatic overlap between home and work life in the wake of the pandemic, inclusive organizations have done a commendable job of aligning workplace policies to adapt to and support their employees’ familial context. Key examples include:
- Re-evaluation of working windows. Organizations such as Swiggy and Oyo have been experimenting with a 4-day workweek model in the interest of well-being, productivity, and balance.
- Supporting those whose homes may not be a safe environment for them. A software giant and a leading financial services GCoE has come out with policies providing financial, emotional, and physical support for employees facing domestic violence.
- Relaxation of leave policies, including for caregivers and in case of bereavement.
4. Inclusive Communication and Respect
Cognizance around sensitive and respectful wording has surpassed the limits of talent acquisition processes (JDs, diverse hiring panels, etc.) to become a necessity for all internal and external communication, be it over email or during virtual calls and events. Key examples include:
- Institutionalizing regular manager-employee check-ins and employee support networks.
- 20% of organizations are providing grief counseling for employees who have lost a loved one, and leading ones are providing training on grief messaging for leaders and managers.
- Balancing communication to and with COVID-19 patients/caregivers to ensure all work pressures are lifted during their recovery. For some employees with mild cases, work may act as an escape, others may get anxious or experience the fear of missing out (‘FOMO’) around not being a part of key progress updates, whereas some employees may appreciate the option to completely switch off. Hence, it is important that organizations give these employees the option to choose the extent of their involvement at work.
5. Unmasking Unconscious Bias
Addressing biases at the workplace will always be a key tenet of I&D for an organization. The herculean task of identifying and eliminating these biases has become all the more crucial in the ‘New Normal,’ given higher levels of stress and anxiety, coupled with a distributed and virtual workplace. To address this, organizations are holding workshops/sessions to educate all employees about unconscious bias and equip them with the tools and techniques they need to avoid its pitfalls.
COVID-19 has added nuance and volume to the I&D strategy of many an organization. Demonstrating care for people, no matter who they are or what differences they may have, is more important now than ever. The focus needs to be on caring for all employees’ lives, both inside and outside of work, and it all stems from ensuring that they are provided the necessary support to bring their best selves to the table. In doing so, organizations would be playing their vital role in making the ‘New Normal’ a much, much better one.
To outline an authentic, proactive, and tailor-made Inclusion and Diversity strategy that caters to an evolving workplace and a distributed workforce, speak to our consultants at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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