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A Positive Work Environment Leads to More Inclusion, Study Suggests

March 25, 2019 by Josh Hrala

Right now, the HR world is obsessed with trying to engage employees on deeper levels. This is largely because engaged workers not only perform better but also stick around longer, a fact that is super important with today’s low unemployment rate.

But how do you engage staff members? This is the question keeping HR leaders up at night, but maybe we should shift focus just a bit here because unless your employees feel included, they will never feel truly engaged. In other words, inclusion first, engagement second (or, hopefully, at the same time).

The good news is that a researcher from Binghamton University’s College of Community and Public Affairs has found that fostering a ‘positive’ work environment went a long way in having an inclusive workplace, which – in turn – promotes higher job satisfaction, innovation, trust, and retention (all key indicators of an engaged workforce).

Let’s dive into the study.

Measuring Inclusion

As we covered above, inclusion can lead to more engagement and a slew of other positive outcomes in the workplace, but how does positivity play a role?

That was the question on the mind of Kim Brimhall, assistant professor of social work at Binghamton, when she “noticed how the nonprofit sector generally suffers from high employee-turnover rates, low work performance and deficits among the leadership, and wanted to find out what could be done to break this cycle,” the university reports.

So, she partnered with a non-profit hospital in Los Angeles to survey employees working there to understand how they felt about “leader engagement, inclusion, innovation, job satisfaction and perceived quality of care.”

What she found was that bosses who encourage input from all workers (regardless of title, tenure, and things of that nature) had staff members that felt more included in their work.


Basically, by allowing everyone on an organizational level to have a say and offer input, they were literally included more in their work, empowering them and allowing them to feel more connected than if managers only took advice from, say, their higher-ups or direct reports.

“When nonprofit organization members believe that they are valued for their unique personal characteristics and are recognized as important members of the organization, employee engagement, trust, satisfaction, commitment and retention improve,” Brimhall said, according to the university.

“Leader engagement, that is, a leader’s ability to actively engage all organizational members in critical decision making, may foster a climate for inclusion and positive organizational outcomes, such as a climate for innovation, job satisfaction and perceived quality of care.”

Brimhall’s findings suggest that if managers are more open and inclusive, they can get many of the same beneficial outcomes that come with having a fully engaged workforce. And, in even better news, the process is rather simple: allow everyone to have input.

In short, this can be boiled down to one simple thing: if you want an inclusive workforce, include your workforce. It doesn’t have to be super complicated.

The Takeaways

Now, there are obviously some caveats here. Brimhall’s study was done at one nonprofit hospital and focuses primarily on nonprofits in general. However, it’s safe to say that her findings extend to for-profit businesses as well. After all, inclusion is something that all business leaders strive for.

In the future, Brimhall plans to help organizations come up with a proper plan to implement a more inclusive work environment, too.

“She is partnering with another large nonprofit hospital to conduct an experimental study testing workplace interventions,” the university reports.

“These tools could help employees feel included and possibly lead to more innovation in the workplace and overall improvement in their feelings toward their job, which would then translate to improved quality of care given to clients.”


Having a toolkit to make these changes at an organization would go a long way, but right now the message is pretty clear: we may be overthinking inclusion. If Brimhall’s study is correct, inclusion is a rather simple process that happens when managers decide to start including their workforce and not cherry picking input based on title, education level, and things like that.

This means that – if you should want to – you could make positive gains in your inclusion program right now.

With employee engagement being such a hot topic right now and retention becoming more and more important with each passing day, we hope that more researchers will start examining what it takes to make a workforce not only productive but happy and fulfilling at the same time. After all, they go hand-in-hand.

Brimhall’s study was published in Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly. You can read the entire article here.

Josh Hrala

Josh Hrala

Josh is an HR journalist and ghostwriter who's been covering outplacement and offboarding for over six years. Before pivoting to the HR world, he was a science journalist whose work can be found in Popular Science, ScienceAlert, The Huffington Post, Cracked, Modern Notion, and more.

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