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The Inclusive Workplace: Raising the Stakes on Retention

Happy employees

By Simon Pole, Woods Bagot, Corporate Interiors

Today, employers are using tools for recruitment and retention that would have sounded unimaginable only twenty years ago. Armies of recruitment consultants, the latest psychometrics and lavish perks are all used to identify and attract the right talent.

Then, when company cars and futuristic PDAs have lost their novelty, more consultants, bonuses and luxury are piled on to workers to slow the turnover rate.

With all these sophisticated tools and big budget bribes at their disposal, most employers still fail to take advantage of their biggest asset.

Businesses that shell out millions on BMWs and motivational iPods for their employees will still often have offices that depress and repel, rather than inspire and welcome.

As a professional working on designing workplaces, I find it amazing that businesses fail to use their office as a strategic resource to keep a new generation of professionals engaged.

The workplace is the most-powerful tool of internal communication wielded by any organisation.

Failing to use employees' surroundings as an instrument of encouragement and motivation will have dire repercussions for businesses whose whole ethos is diluted with ambivalent, outmoded and just plain cheap work environments.

A new generation of workers, who have higher expectations, and are keenly aware of the real message, will turn a deaf ear to weekend retreat bonding sessions and excitable HR consultants.

High turnover of staff becomes inevitable if highly sought-after professionals are expected to work in an office that contradicts everything the business is supposed to stand for.

The pool of knowledge workers is actually decreasing. The mid-career worker wants greater work-life balance, and there are a growing number of older workers looking to retire.

We need to create cultures, human resource tactics and workplaces that actively encourage people to stay and make them feel included.

This is not only an issue in regard to intelligent business practice but also a legal issue because of the new legislation surrounding Age Discrimination Policy and employee engagement.

Creating an Inclusive Workplace

The 'Inclusive Workplace' is a term that originates from the HR industry. In its traditional context, it means a discrimination-free environment that accommodates all workers.

With recruitment and retention becoming more difficult every year, it's time to place more focus on the 'place' aspect of the workplace. This means paying attention to people feeling good about where they work.

A healthy workplace can provide advantages and is an inexpensive way of attracting and retaining the best workers. A recent Gallup survey of over 2,000 American workers shows that of those that feel most included, a whopping 86%, "would recommend their company as a place to work to friends and family".

There's clearly an opportunity for businesses to think about making employees feel wanted, so that they recommend the company to their friends, rather than always be on the lookout for other opportunities.

The major cause of the disconnect between organisational values and the workplace is the massive chasm between two distinct groups of decision-makers.

Human resources and property management rarely collaborate on projects such as office moves, property acquisition, architect briefings or new interior designs.

HR managers tell us time and time again that space-related complaints are among the most frustrating, due to the fact they have little control over the work environment. The HR managers must get involved in helping to develop the workplace. After all, they are responsible for the employees well being.

The competitive nature of the marketplace makes it necessary to carefully distil the organisation's values and behaviours, in particular those that are special or unique, and look for ways to physically reinforce them.

The result will be a company culture that's echoed in the workplace design and associated amenities. Current and incoming employees will have no doubt about the organisation's messages and values and embrace the brand.

The Inclusive Workplace will ideally be created by a team with design, project management, change management and communication skills. Most likely, internal and external resources will be required to achieve a real break from the short-term cost-cutting tradition.

It's somewhat depressing to see how the latest 'low-cost' property model quickly becomes the benchmark for the next wave of projects, dooming workplaces to become cookie-cutter Gen Y deterrents from day one.

Measuring Benefits

Jack Welch, former CEO and Chairman of General Electric, said it best in 2003:

"The best companies now know, without a doubt, where productivity - real and limitless productivity - comes from - challenged, empowered, excited, rewarded teams of people.

"It comes from engaging every single mind in the organisation, making everyone part of the action, and allowing everyone to have a voice - a role - in the success of the enterprise. Doing so raises productivity not incrementally, but by multiples."

There are three ways of gauging the effectiveness of the Inclusive Workplace, cost, value-add, and strategic. The simplest metrics to use are staff absenteeism and rent/usable space.

Measuring value-add is much harder - here, the goal is to determine staff engagement and workplace performance.

Strategic measurement aims to look at specific individuals and how the workplace impacts their productivity. It's tricky to surmount meaningful, cause and effect relationships for measuring strategic value as this can only really be gauged through qualative assessment rather than quantative.

Refurbishment or moving office is the best time to refocus on the employee experience, and it requires a concerted effort, initiated by management, to create an Inclusive Workplace.

The process inevitably requires the right team, including HR to get together on aligning the physical surroundings, design, layout, IT and environmental factors to ensure that it all seamlessly integrates into the new space and workers' ICT (John what does ICT stand for?) experience.

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