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Inclusion in the Workplace

Uniqueness + Belonging = Inclusion¹

We human beings experience two primary needs in group settings: the need to feel special and the need to feel like we belong.² In the workplace, these two needs can be met when we feel recognized for our diverse perspective and experiences without fearing that these differences will compromise our ability to fit in with our workgroup. Therefore, inclusion in the workplace is a combination and a balance between uniqueness and belonging.

Bringing together diverse teams without fostering an environment of inclusion can be problematic. Research shows that people who work in diverse teams feel less confident about their work.³ It can be difficult to navigate diverse viewpoints and confront opinions that we may disagree with. This is why diversity must be well-managed through inclusion in order to reap the benefits of increased accuracy, problem-solving, performance and innovation. Inclusion amplifies the benefits of diversity for the betterment of an organization.

A study from Catalyst found that feelings of inclusion among employees are linked to innovation, such as suggesting new ideas and processes for getting work done, and team citizenship behaviors, such as going beyond the call of duty to help meet organizational goals.4 When employees felt included on their teams, they reported a 40% average increase in innovation and a 46% average increase in team citizenship behaviors.5 In a global marketplace where success is often determined by thin margins, this type of engaged, creative work is imperative to keep organizations competitive.

Implications & Risks

As with any balancing act, tilting too far in one direction comes with risks. If a manager over-privileges uniqueness, employees may feel tokenized. If belonging is overemphasized, organizations may suffer from groupthink.  Moreover, employees are more likely to experience otherness and engage in covering behaviors as they sense that divergences from the norm will not be accepted. Both extremes can alienate employees and lead to suppressed employee engagement due to feelings of exclusion.

Exclusion costs organizations in the form of compromised job satisfaction, lower sense of well-being, reduced work effort, and diminished employee voice. Research shows that employees who feel that the unique qualities they bring to the table aren’t appreciated have higher intention to leave.6 This creates a risk of high turnover, as well as “turn-under”, which is when employees remain physically employed by the organization but mentally quit, resulting in low employee engagement and contribution.

Deloitte’s turnover calculation estimates that the total cost of turnover is 1.5-2 times the annual salary of an employee who quits.7 This figure includes costs related to vacancy, hiring, ramp-up time and learning curve adjustment, and lost client/customer relationships. Additionally, both turnover and turn-under erode an organization’s culture and productivity as other employees notice and may ask themselves: why?

The struggle to attract and retain top talent is a global challenge.8 Advancing technology allows for a geographically disparate workforce: one team member in Japan, the main office in San Francisco, freelancers in Poland. Additionally, a number of emerging markets have joined the hunt for talent. Top talent has more choices than ever and looks for workplaces that share their values. Inclusion is part of a strong employee value proposition.

Tips & Solutions

Empowering one’s direct reports by giving them the tools, knowledge, and opportunities to develop has a positive impact on both innovation and team citizenship. Here are a few methods of empowering your employees by tapping into both uniqueness and belonging:9

  • Support employee self-improvement. Make sure that you have a clear understanding of each of your team member’s developmental goals, and align a portion of their work to meet them. Continually check in to track progress.
  • Delegate opportunities as well as responsibility. Give members of your team a chance to be seen representing your workgroup to the broader organization. Demonstrate your faith in their talent and abilities, and they will feel both valued for their uniqueness and like a true member of the team.
  • Ask your team for their input on big decisions. Show that you value their individual perspectives, and also reinforce that you’re all part of the team and share organizational goals.
  • Recognize employees when they do well. Emphasize both their individual contributions and how they’ve advanced team goals.

Contact us for diversity solutions tailored for your team and workplace.


¹ Inclusive Leadership: The View From Six Countries. Catalyst 2014.
² Shore, Lynn & Randel, Amy & Chung, Beth & Dean, Michelle & Holcombe Ehrhart, Karen & Singh, Gangaram. (2011). Inclusion and Diversity in Work Groups: A Review and Model for Future Research. Journal of Management. 37. 10.1177/0149206310385943.
³ Paraphrased from Bunkhuon Chhun, “Better Decisions Through Diversity,” KelloggInsight, October 1, 2010; Based on the research of Katherine W. Phillips, Katie A. Liljenquist, and Margaret A. Neale, “Is the Pain Worth the Gain? The Advantages and Liabilities of Agreeing With Socially Distinct Newcomers,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, vol. 35, no. 3 (March 2009): p. 336-350.
4 Inclusive Leadership: The View From Six Countries. Catalyst 2014.
5 Ibid.
6 Michàl E. Mor Barak and Amy Levin, “Outside of The Corporate Mainstream and Excluded from the Work Community: A Study Of Diversity, Job Satisfaction And Well-Being,” Community, Work & Family, vol. 5, no. 2 (2002): p. 133-157.
7 Josh Bersin, “Employee Retention Now a Big Issue: Why the Tide has Turned,” Bersin by Deloitte/LinkedIN, August 13, 2013.
8 Josh Bersin, “Employee Retention Now a Big Issue: Why the Tide has Turned,” Bersin by Deloitte/LinkedIN, August 13, 2013.
9 When Empowering Employees Works, and When It Doesn’t. Harvard Business Review, 2018.