Inclusive or Intrusive?

Striking the balance between employee engagement and employee privacy.

Given the year we have just had, you could be forgiven if your focus as a leader was firmly on keeping the wheels of industry and operational matters turning. Diversity and inclusion may well have been kicked into the long grass until such a point that a new normal is reached.

The road to our ‘new norm’ destination is clearly a bumpy one that has required us to significantly adjust our course. We may reasonably have decided to by-pass some of our normal practices along the way. As we take stock, now is a good time to consider our moral and legal obligations, before we journey on.

Should ‘Diversity and Inclusion’ be on a leader’s radar right now? If so, how is it relevant to our current situation? And, something you may not have considered, what are the implications of this and Data Protection?

What is Diversity & Inclusion?

Our legislative framework gives special consideration to sensitive information such as race, gender, disability, sexual orientation etc. But diversity is about more than this. It’s about how we recognise everyone's differences. Everyone is a unique individual. How do we bring that uniqueness positively to the workplace? How do we empower people to feel that they can bring their whole self to work, to have the best experience in the workplace, and achieve the best outcomes for the business?

Inclusion on the other hand is about making people feel accepted, that they belong.  Inclusion is your ‘thriving index’; it’s a measure of how well your people can reach their potential and perform in the working environment and the culture you foster.

A recent Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development survey showed that lockdown and associated restrictions have had a major impact on our ability to individually thrive, leading to increased feelings of isolation, uncertainty and stress, and employees feeling that they are operating more as a silo than as part of a team.

Leadership has become a fusion of face to face working and distance management. This is a challenge for the most seasoned leader and human resources professional, attempting to check in with team members’ physical, mental and circumstantial wellbeing.

Whilst such individual conversations are important; it can be challenging for leaders to take action when the workforce is fragmented and working remotely. How can we open the dialogue and embed a genuinely inclusive culture when employees are working from home in a range of private/not private set ups? How can we strike the right balance between helping employees to feel included but without intruding on matters that the employee may feel are personal to them or fall outside of the working relationship?

"I am not alone at home on the call when you want to discuss how I feel and how I am coping? I feel awkward talking to you, but I know you are trying to help me."

"I do feel a bit isolated and frustrated that something which always took 10 minutes when we were all in one place now takes hours as the collaboration is stilted, and some colleagues won’t engage using virtual platforms."

The leadership conundrum - when does inclusion become intrusion?  It is easy to consider data protection and privacy responsibilities when tackling recruitment, promotion matters for example – but what are the potential data protection and privacy issues when checking in on our remote team members?

Employer obligations regarding employee data protection matters aren’t suspended as a result of the pandemic and simply because employees are working from home or in a different way. They remain in full force and effect and employers need to ensure that they continue to respect employee’s rights.

What is Data Protection?

The Data Protection (Jersey) Law 2018 is in place to protect all of our personal information and is based on inextricably linked principles. These principles set out the basics when using personal information. Think inclusion but not intrusion – minimise the information you collect, be transparent, only keep it for the period required and consider the context of the collection.

Those simple notes you are taking about an employee’s well-being are personal information, relating to that employee’s health. Health information is classed as ‘special category data’ under the Law and attracts an enhanced level of protection. You must treat it with particular respect because if it is lost it creates significant risks to a person’s fundamental rights and freedoms.

Is someone else listening in your home office or theirs? Are your good intentions creating friction and bordering on being invasive?

As we come up to one year of doing business in a pandemic, now is the time to reflect on our approach and make sure we are set firmly on the right track, balancing the need to be an inclusive employer, with our legal obligations. We have created a simple non-intrusive checklist to help.

  • Ask, how are we doing? A simple satisfaction survey is a good way to identify where you, as an employer may have the opportunity to create a more diverse and inclusive culture as you travel towards the ‘new norm’.
  • Get to know your people on a personal level. Ask about their personal hopes or challenges with the aim of being an ‘inclusive’ employer rather than an ‘intrusive’ employer.
  • Ask your team member when is the best time and platform on which to have a quick catch up with each individual.
  • Consider what practices you have in place that help employees to belong and to thrive. Regular team and individual ‘check-ins’ are a good way to ensure open conversations take place. Make sure you allocate time to talk about your employee’s personal situation and how they are coping as well as their workload.
  • If you take notes during your ‘check-ins’ ask yourself why. Do you really need them? Where are they saved? Who has access to them? What are you going to do with them and why?
  • Remember there's no one approach that works for everyone. So, you must think of your context and take the bits that seem most relevant and helpful to you and your employees.

You will note we have used the word ‘ask’ several times above. This is because people really are individuals, what some may find intrusive, others may think of as inclusive, so ask. And, of course always ask yourself about the data protection implications of your inclusion activities.

As the old saying goes ‘Include me and I will be your champion, exclude me and I will be your judge’