Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives don’t usually go hand in hand with employee rewards. Research by Reframe finds that only 27 percent of HR teams in companies with less than 250 employees expect diversity and inclusion agendas to influence benefit design.
But DEI and rewards are actually a match made in HR heaven. A joint study by Workplace Intelligence and Achievers found that organizations where rewards are interwoven with diversity initiatives enjoy significant benefits.
Dan Schawbel, managing partner at Workplace Intelligence, reports those benefits include:
- A threefold increase in the number of engaged employees.
- A twofold increase in employees who feel included.
- A 350-percent increase in the number of HR leaders who say their company will likely achieve its diversity and inclusion goals.
It’s clear that combining DEI and rewards teams is a worthwhile endeavor when it comes to engagement and inclusion. However, there are other ways in which DEI leaders can help HR teams to improve their rewards programs.
Better Personalized Rewards
Your rewards might not be as personalized as you think — even if your HR team has gone to lengths to match benefits to your employee demographic. DEI leaders can offer a different perspective when it comes to rewards personalization and highlight ways that rewards can be a genuinely good fit.
There are many examples of ways standard rewards can lack the personalization your diverse workforce needs, says Elizabeth Howlett, a former associate content editor at the Reward & Employee Benefits Association (REBA). “Businesses must start to question whether every employee will be able to take full advantage of what’s on offer,” she writes.
“For example, under the Shariah laws for those following the Islamic faith, earning interest from and investing in funds which derive from the sale of alcohol, tobacco and gambling is prohibited,” Howlett explains. “Therefore, pension investments in most funds are out of bounds. In addition, some healthcare benefits are not open to those with pre-existing conditions which excludes people with disabilities or chronic conditions.”
Personalizing rewards with an eye on DEI doesn’t have to cost the world and the payoffs in terms of employee wellbeing can be huge. “Benefits such as gender affirmation procedures and drug coverage, mental health supports, leave support and increased coverage for infertility are a minor investment with a large employee engagement return,” write Gallagher’s Farzeen Mawji and Sandra Ventin.
“In most cases, costs for standard benefits offerings such as massage therapy or dental cleanings continue to outpace DEI investments, so the monetary commitment may be minimal. By enhancing coverage with a view to DEI priorities, you can make an immense impact on the wellbeing of your people and their family members.”
Uncover Underserved Employees
Even if you offer a broad range of diverse employee rewards, there’s no guarantee that everyone will use them in the same way — or even access them at all.
Problems occur when only some employees are able to use benefits, says Anton Gunn, who is an authority on socially conscious leadership and was a senior advisor to former President Barack Obama. “You’ll likely see that you’re providing some benefits to employees, which are not being taken advantage of by certain groups,” he notes. “And this can put them at a disadvantage.”
Unfortunately, it’s easy for employers to ignore or overlook disparities in how employees access benefits, write Gallup’s Ellyn Maese and Camille Lloyd. “After all, it is tempting to think that simply providing benefits such as health insurance or an employee assistance program (EAP) is enough to ensure equal, fair access for all employees. In reality, offering benefits is not the same as ensuring equal access.”
Research by Gallup finds that while 13 percent of white employees are dissatisfied with the availability of good healthcare where they live, 21 percent of Black and 22 percent of Hispanic employees are dissatisfied.
DEI leaders can help you assess whether your existing rewards and benefits really do meet the needs of your diverse workforce.
“Use data analytics to uncover segments of your workforce that might be unconsciously overlooked or excluded and consider whether your benefits are affordable, accessible, and aligned to meet the physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing needs of all your employees,” writes Leah Reynolds, a principal at HR consulting, administration, and technology firm, Buck.
“For example, examine benefit plan design to eliminate unintentional inequities such as covering medically necessary care, essential services, and treatments for transgender individuals, or add inclusive family building benefits for all types of families.”
Once you have found underrepresented employees, DEI and rewards leaders must address the challenges these employees face. According to Virgin Pulse’s Chris Michalak and Marlette Jackson these include:
- A higher risk of physical and mental health challenges, as proven by the “substantially higher rates of Covid-19 infection, hospitalization, and death among Black, Hispanic, and Asian people compared with white people.”
- Greater difficulty finding good healthcare and making healthy lifestyle choices, particularly in terms of lower-income employees.
- Poor mental health outcomes due to a number of factors, including a lack of quality mental healthcare services, cultural stigma, and a lack of awareness about mental health.
Improve Rewards-Related Communication
It’s one thing to tailor your rewards program for a diverse workforce; it’s another to communicate your rewards strategy effectively. Once again, DEI leaders can help here by ensuring your communication strategy is as diverse as your employees.
“To be most effective, communication shouldn’t be ‘one size fits all,’” writes Erika Illiano, a partner at Strategic Benefit Advisors (now Brown & Brown). “Organizations can tailor messages and resources for different population segments—such as leveraging demographics like generation and gender to address unique needs.”
What can work particularly well is “life stage communication,” she says. This is where employees find people in the same situation as themselves to navigate rewards programs and find the best rewards for their current situation.
DEI leaders can also help HR improve communication diversity when building those rewards programs in the first place.
“Listening forums and informal drop-ins are a great way to engage employees in conversation and find out what they want – or don’t want – from their benefits package,” writes Claire Weekes at employee communications consultancy Eximia. “By including employees in the conversations that help shape the future of what’s on offer, you also help to create a workplace where employees feel valued and listened to.”
Fast-casual restaurant chain, Noodles & Company, used employee input to expand DEI-related benefits. Sue Petersen, executive vice president of inclusion, diversity, and people at the company, says new offerings like flu shots, mental health counseling, tuition assistance and surrogacy coverage up to $10,000 were developed by consulting with employees.
“We did a number of listening forums with our team members, to ask questions about how we were doing as an organization around inclusion,” she explains. “And some of the things that we ultimately introduced came from what we heard during those listening forums.”
Clearly, DEI leaders can have a huge impact on your rewards program. Better personalization, uncovering underserved employees, and improved communication can be obtained by inviting them into the conversation.