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How to support the well-being of diverse workers

Posted by Nikky Lee - 28 September, 2021

Just as well-being is holistic, a workplace well-being programme needs to cater to employees from all walks of life rather than the common denominator.

A diverse workplace brings about many benefits, particularly in performance, innovation and risk management. Research from Deloitte has found cognitively and demographically diverse workforces enhance innovation by 20 per cent and reduces risk by 30 per cent. Meanwhile, while a US study found companies that championed disability inclusion had 28 per cent higher revenue, double the net income and 30 per cent higher economic profit margins.

In short: diversity is exceptionally good for business.

However, it seems not all workplaces are good for diverse minorities. In Perceptive’s May 2021 Omnibus, we found respondents who identified as LGBTQ+, neurodivergent and disabled had experienced depression and anxiety at work significantly more than the rest of the New Zealand workforce. Meanwhile, numerous studies show ethnic minorities are more likely to experience mental distress and New Zealand researchers have found that Māori, Pasifika and Asians are more likely to go undiagnosed.



With these issues in mind, the well-being of our diverse workers needs to be carefully considered when creating your well-being programme.


Three ways to make your well-being programme diversity inclusive


1. Start with inclusion

The success of your well-being programme among your diverse staff all comes down to inclusion. From flexible working arrangements to specialised equipment, cultural understanding and appreciation, and celebrating difference, all these elements can work together to build a safe and inclusive environment for all your staff.

Moreover, organisations that embrace inclusion are twice as likely to exceed financial targets, three times as likely to be high performing, six times more likely to be innovative and agile and eight times more likely to achieve better business outcomes.1

Ways to foster inclusion can include:

  • In your leadership—encourage your leaders to be open-minded/curious, respectful, collaborative, aware of their biases and committed to diversity. Leaders can drive up to 70 percentage points of difference between the proportion of employees who feel highly included and the proportion of those who do not.2
  • In your hiring practises—take unconscious bias training to reduce the impact of your stigmas, particularly the ones you may not be aware of.
  • Encourage storytelling, whether it is a story about growing up in another country or explaining how they perceive the world. Important note: never force this on your diverse employees, they must be willing.
  • Educating your staff on the difference between equality and equity.
  • Creating diverse working groups for projects—this is particularly beneficial for middle managers.
  • Flexible hours and working options—to make allowances for family commitments and health needs.
  • Celebrate difference—from language and cultural days to giving equitable recognition to diverse employees who have excelled in your business.


Related content: The Manager's Guide to Workplace Well-being


2. Anti-discrimination policies that are upheld

Discrimination is a leading cause of mental distress in the workplace. While it is against New Zealand and Australian law, having your own policy and clearly communicating it makes your business’ zero tolerance of discrimination clear. Your policy should outline what is considered unacceptable behaviour, what the process is when an instance of discrimination is brought forward, and what disciplinary actions may result.

However, a discrimination policy is only as good as the leadership in your business. As the ones responsible for enforcing the policy, your leaders must hold people to account and correct instances of discrimination swiftly and appropriately. Anything less sends a message to your employees that discrimination is acceptable, regardless of what your policy says.


3. Accessibility

While wheelchair access might be obvious, take into consideration invisible disabilities—such as hearing loss and auditory conditions, visual impairment, sleep disorders, chronic pain, and chronic illnesses such as diabetes.

According to the World Health Organisation, current levels of hearing loss are expected to double over the next three decades. Meanwhile in New Zealand, 38 per cent of people who have hearing loss are of working age.

With this in mind, consider how someone with hearing loss will attend virtual meetings/presentations, how you might offer flexible working options to employees who suffer from a sleep disorder or simply understanding a diabetic may need to step out to test their blood sugar.

Learn more: How to become a Hearing Accredited Workplace


4. Celebrate and accommodate neurodiversity

Neurodivergent is a broad term for a range of neurocognitive conditions, such as ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia and Tourette syndrome, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

According to DivergenThinking, at least 25 per cent of your current workforce will be neurodiverse but either don’t realise it or do not feel safe to tell you and others. However, neurodiverse employees are often a major asset to their businesses, bringing creativity and out-of-the-box thinking that neurotypical employees may not consider.

According to Juliet Bourke, author of Which Two Heads Are Better Than One?, neurodiverse teams are “twice as likely to meet or exceed financial targets, three times as likely to be high-performing, six times more likely to be innovative and agile, eight times more likely to achieve better business outcomes.”

Because of the broad nature of neurodiversity, accommodating neurodiverse employees can vary and often needs to be tailored to each individual. However, here are a few example accommodations to consider:

  • Permitting the use of headphones to block noise and distractions.
  • Seating your neurodivergent employee away from high-traffic areas, such as the entrances/exits or near the kitchen.
  • Allowing an employee to work remotely.
  • Providing clear instructions and giving them in writing.
  • Providing a visual calendar for deadlines, meetings, etc.
  • Saying exactly what you mean—people with autism spectrum disorder are more likely to miss non-verbal communication cues such as body language and tone of voice.

Above all, we recommend talking to your neurodivergent employees one-on-one to find out where their struggles lie and work with them to find solutions.

Your diverse employees are more vulnerable to poor well-being. If your workplace well-being programme doesn’t take their needs into account, you are ignoring a portion of your workforce who may need it most.


Help your employees find bounce back from challenges and setbacks with The Manager's Guide to Workplace Well-being.

Download the Manager's Guide to Workplace Well-being


1. Juliet Bourke, 2018. The diversity and inclusion revolution: Eight powerful truths, Deloitte.

2. Ibid.

Topics: Employee Experience

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