Why don’t employees trust Wellbeing, Diversity and Inclusion programs?

To understand why employees often do not trust programs that survey their wellbeing, diversity, and sense of inclusion, it pays to listen to the adage, ‘follow the money’.

This is especially true for a commercial organisation but also applies to corporatised government enterprises and NGOs. ‘Follow the money’ is supported by the other saying: the golden rule says ‘he who has the gold makes the rules’.

Most Wellbeing, Diversity and Inclusion (WDI) programmes are designed for, and sold to, Human Resource departments fixated on reducing costs, increasing profits, and cranking productivity. The ‘bottom line’ is that the marketing collateral from organisations that sell these WDI programmes often claim to ‘boost profits, innovation, and agility’.

HR are targeted because they are well known for ensuring that employees understand their contractual performance obligations – compliance is one of their primary objectives. They can also offer management tools to quantify, review, hire and fire employees who can assess peak performance and productivity, or the lack hereof. 

This was once the domain of Key Performance Indicators that were and still often are prescribed by HR and managers to hold employees to account, based on their role and job description. WDI programmes inherit this baggage as employees often regard them in much the same way that they do CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility). CSR and the Triple Bottom Line approach are often seen as no more than cynical policies or pretty words to make it appear as if the organisation complies with public norms, the laws and regulations of the organisation’s jurisdiction.

As the ‘free market’ apostle, Milton Friedman once pointed out a corporation’s only responsibility is to the shareholders. Friedman had little time for CSR as it challenged his ideology that governments should not intervene in the market – full stop. Unfortunately, today our political and economic landscape is still dominated by the religious conviction that market forces are the most cost effective and fair way to ensure the cultural, psychological and economic wellbeing of society.  

Therefore, if a corporation, NGO, government bureaucracy or state owned enterprise initiates a WDI programme employees will subconsciously ‘follow the money’ and assume that the motivation of HR or management, behind a WDI programme, is to either trick them into being more engaged, more productive, and hopefully profitable, or is some sinister form of surveillance that ensures they are truly a team player.

The only way to reassure an employee is to invert the power dynamic. Rather than HR initiating an employee survey into WDI, S23M offers an independent survey that is focused on employee wellbeing from an ethical and personal perspective.

The questions in the survey address employee concerns around whether they have a voice and are totally anonymous. The results are only shared in the aggregate form, with all employees and with management. Wellbeing, diversity and inclusion have to be disconnected from the commercial objectives of management and appreciated for their contributions to creativity, collaboration and knowledge sharing.

The organisation should undertake such a WDI because it is the ethical thing to do, and the only way that the employees can contribute to a sustainable future together. This will not only rebuild trust, which is often lacking in corporations that emphasise shareholder return and efficiency, but also result in better levels of care and better outcomes for patients. S23M and the client organisation must display a transparent commercial arrangement so that employees can follow the money and trust that gold is not the primary objective of the exercise.

Dr Pete Rive, Senior Advisor
July 2021