Inclusivity at work has become a widely discussed subject over the last several years, with good reason. A truly inclusive workplace attracts top talent, increases productivity, and makes employees want to stick around. But what exactly does inclusivity look like when put into practice?
To build an inclusive workplace, companies usually focus their efforts on organizational diversity policies and inclusive leadership training—both of which are critical steps to take. However, the impact of peer relationships and everyday interactions between co-workers is less frequently discussed.
How do peer relationships affect inclusivity in the workplace? Workplace expert, Juliet Bourke, spent three years studying interpersonal inclusion to determine exactly that, and outlined her findings in a recent Harvard Business Review article. According to Bourke, here’s what practicing inclusivity at work actually looks like:
Co-workers can help each other out in a variety of ways—by accomplishing tasks, providing valuable insight, making introductions, giving endorsements—the list goes on. What makes these actions noteworthy, according to Bourke, “is that they are discretionary and fall outside the strict ambit of one’s job description.” It’s about helping because you want to, not because you have to.
Caring for the emotions of others.
Taking emotional care of co-workers looksdifferent from person to person, but any action intended to offer support or demonstrate interest in someone’s life outside of work falls in this realm. This is about socializing during the day to build emotional bonds.
Listening to a coworker vent, asking about their interests, making jokes, and engaging in witty banter are all ways to care for the emotions of your peers. While any one of these interactions may seem insignificant on its own, the relationships formed over time can have a massive cumulative impact.
Sharing physical space.
Bourke says co-workers build deeper connections by communicating through body language and other nonverbal cues. These are behaviors like walking to meetings together or sitting next to each other at lunch or during a break. Deliberately choosing to share space with another person is another small act of interpersonal inclusion with a big effect over time.
While physical proximity in the office is no longer the default circumstance, there are other ways to build similar connections virtually. Demonstrating that you are engaged and listening while a co-worker speaks on a video call, for example, is a nonverbal way to communicate your support. In fact, active listening is perhaps even more noticeable and appreciated in virtual spaces where speaking feels particularly isolating and distractions are plenty.
The bottom line is that small gestures actually make a big difference. Everyday inclusive behaviors may seem inconsequential on their own, but these subtleties are what defines a company’s culture. Inclusivity should not be taken for granted. Identifying what interpersonal inclusion looks like enables employees to make the conscious choice to demonstrate these behaviors at work.