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Why connection is crucial for employees of color
Across the workforce, a connection crisis is brewing.
Despite a movement to reenter public spaces and reengage personal relationships in the aftermath of a global pandemic, senior leaders are still grappling with pervasive issues that affect the spheres of business. Workforce resource management, economic uncertainty, and hybrid/remote working arrangement all require companies to build and maintain strong connections with their people. Connected employees are committed, adaptable, and resilient — qualities that nearly 95% of organizational leadership agree are the relational skills that are essential in today’s workplace.
Yet, despite overarching agreement about the importance of connectivity, employees are dissatisfied with the connection at work.
A new report from BetterUp, The Connection Crisis: Why community matters in the new world of work, analyzed 78 top companies on Glassdoor and found that only:
- 38% of employees are very satisfied with the workplace culture
- 31% are very satisfied with the level of social connection in the workplace
- 26% are very satisfied with the workplace focus on wellbeing and success
We know that a lack of connectivity at work leads to reduced psychological safety, physical well-being, cognitive ability, and social thriving among employees. Those factors can eventually lead to drops in performance and belonging while increasing an employee’s intention to quit.
Those outcomes are felt even more acutely by employees of color.
For employees of color, lack of connection isn’t new
An imperative lens for leaders to use as they address connection within the workplace is the unique historical factors employees of color have historically experienced. A recent resurgence in social justice movements in the past few years has resulted in an uptick in awareness of diversity, equity, and belonging — across industries, companies are ramping up their diversity and inclusion efforts. The number of black directors at those companies is on the rise, and DE&I roles are popping up all over the country.
However, while companies are doing a better job of increasing the diversity of their workforce, many of these appear to be surface-level changes. The truth is that employees of color have long experienced the impact of a lack of inclusion in the workplace.
According to our data, employees of color:
- Have 32% fewer friends and 23% fewer bridge ties (or connections between different communities) at work than white or majority groups.
- Consistently rate interactions with their coworkers as less collaborative, supportive, and familiar than those in majority groups.
Overall, employees from underrepresented groups are 1.6X more likely to experience less belonging than their majority peers. Whereas high rates of belonging lead to a 56% increase in job performance and a 50% reduction in the risk of employee turnover, individuals with low belonging are more likely to quit their jobs and have lower productivity. There is a significant difference between building an employee base comprised of different categories of people, and building a truly inclusive environment where those people feel safe, welcomed, and valued for what they bring to the table.
Inclusive, connected workplaces don’t happen by accident. Thoughtfulness, intention, and support for personal growth are all necessary ingredients to build a climate in which people from all backgrounds can truly flourish. The first steps to rectify this issue may be as straightforward as building social bridges.
Support employees of color by creating connection opportunities
When present, belonging, employer support, and a positive work environment lay the foundation for employees to feel connected to their teams. People want and need different types, degrees, and amounts of social connection, but our data show that people overwhelmingly want to have more friends or friendly colleagues in the workplace.
There are myriad ways to engage employees to build relationships that will promote overall employee engagement and satisfaction:
- Focus on enabling quality, not just quantity of connection. Fostering open, authentic avenues of communication either in person or in remote, digital environments matters most; above a large number of touchpoints, meetings, or emails at work.
- Prioritize relationship-building, especially among dispersed teams. Our ability to effectively build relationships is shaped by a diverse set of factors, but managers can make the process easier by getting to know the unique needs of their direct reports. Modeling this openness means gains for employees throughout the team. Granted, this can be especially challenging in a hybrid environment, but the basics still apply. Create opportunities for remote colleagues to socialize, collaborate, and build camaraderie.
- Promote belonging. Belonging cannot be given or dictated, but managers can still lead by example by establishing belonging as a priority, brainstorming ways to foster belonging, gathering feedback, and helping teammates feel welcome.
- Make connection a priority from day one with onboarding. When leaders shape onboarding programs to support more social connections (instead of just focusing on company policies and work tasks), new hires experienced 279% larger friendship networks, 55% more connection, and 47% more belonging.
- Focus on DEIB and expanding opportunities for ERG formation. By making an intentional commitment to awareness and action, organizational leaders can build more inclusive environments for employees of color, and establish groups that can serve as safe spaces for diverse employees.
Bridging the connection gap is an organizational imperative, especially for employees of color. Our research shows that how connected workers feel towards their colleagues plays an outsized role in employee experience, engagement, and talent retention.
Ashley Strahm is a content strategist, storyteller, and writer based in Durham, NC. A Guyanese-American with a penchant for international travel and naturopathic medicine, she has over a decade of experience in brand architecture, campaign development, and content creation for healthcare, education, and tech organizations. She is deeply committed to meticulous, effective, and intentional work that addresses inequitable access to care, justice, and safety.