It’s human nature to want to feel included and to have some level of safety and control over our environment. When we don’t, we feel unhappy and frustrated. It impacts our ability to relate to others, engage in social situations and work well to achieve outcomes.
At work, inclusion is – and should be – a critical element of the onboarding process. Right from the outset, if a person feels included, they will engage and perform well, and feel a sense of happiness and optimism about themselves, their role and the organisation. As a result, they will be more committed to the culture of the company and to achieving organisational outcomes.
The six effects of exclusion at work
There is significant research that suggests that when people do not feel included, their cognitive function is impaired. Put simply, they don’t perform as well on simple tasks, compared to those who do feel included in their environment. The research is based on our understanding of neuroscience, whereby the emotional pain of feeling left out is perceived by the brain in the same way as physical pain. This then causes an individual to retreat further and isolate themselves from that threat, which then in turn, negatively impacts their wellbeing.
The Neuroleadership Institute refer to six effects of exclusion:
- Reduced intelligence and thought reasoning – performing worse on IQ and standard tests.
- Increased self-defeating behaviour – i.e. acting in an irrational, risky or foolish way.
- Reduced pro-social behaviour – a reluctance to engage and help others.
- Impaired self-regulation – exhibits less self-control and becomes more frustrated in certain situations.
- Reduced meaning and purpose – becoming emotionally distant and lethargic.
- Decreased wellbeing – feelings of loneliness, social anxiety and depression.
The decision to leave a job or company is more likely to be made if a person is impacted by these effects of exclusion.
It comes from the top
Inclusion is typically seen as the responsibility of the leader. While leaders do need to ‘lead by example,’ it’s only when everyone in the team contributes to a more inclusive environment at work, that a genuine sense of personal and organisational wellbeing is achieved. A manager is perfectly placed to ensure that each member of their team feels a part of the organisation, both personally and professionally, but they cannot achieve this alone.
From the outset, it means helping a new employee “own” their onboarding and drive their own success in the team. A leader needs to provide a balance between creating an effective structure, while also allowing employees the freedom and flexibility to reach out across the team and organisation to further their own learning.
As a leader, it is important to take the opportunity to have a conversation with your team that asks some of these questions:
- How do we include each other?
- Is there a real level of trust between the people in this team? If not, why not?
- Do individuals feel they know what they need to know to feel part of the team?
- Are people comfortable that they are being ‘heard’ as well as ‘seen’ by their manager and colleagues?
- Do they all feel included?
The last question is perhaps the most powerful and important to ask. Ask it early and often.
How to create an inclusive environment
Inclusion is an issue for everyone, and we can all do some simple things to foster this:
- Share stories – with everyone in the team, not just a select group of people.
- Share information – be open and transparent. Don’t hold on too tight to information that can, and should, be shared with everyone.
- Share significant occasions – birthdays, wins, losses, challenges, opportunities. Let people get to know you as a person outside of the work environment, and vice versa.
- Share knowledge – help others to learn and understand a topic you may have a lot of knowledge on that you can pass on.
- Share your positive energy – it can help lift someone up just when they need it most.
- Share some fun – have joke time in team meetings, schedule social events that give people a chance to relax and have a laugh with each other. It doesn’t always have to be about work.