Does being more inclusive benefit your wellbeing?

Diversity and inclusiveness is about being open to others who are not like your– perhaps a different age, gender or ethnic background. It is about adjusting the way you communicate to get on with people from different cultures, building relationships with people from a very different background to yourself, and speaking up to challenge stereotyping and prejudice.

In the UK – and in the USA if the media reporting of the Presidential campaign we hear is true – there has been much talk about the problems caused by immigration and many views expressed which are the opposite of being inclusive and open. In this context, readers might like to hear about a surprising benefit that comes from being more diverse and inclusive in behavior and views towards others.

We ran a Do Something Different digital program in a global company to develop greater diversity and inclusiveness among the staff. Few organizations would dispute the benefits of developing inclusive working practices. Of course it is good professional practice, backed by legal and compliance reasons, and many also see it produces a happier workforce, or even that it might help sales. These are good reasons. But we were also interested in whether being more inclusive might have personal benefits for staff – in terms of their wellbeing. We measured wellbeing using a reliable scale composed of items about coping, happiness, physical health, decision-making, being valued, talking to others, having meaning in life and close relationships.

What the employees did

Employees on the Do Something Different Diversity & Inclusion program began by completing an online diagnostic suite about their working habits in respect of diversity and inclusiveness, wellbeing, openness to change and personality. The inclusiveness and personality diagnostics were used to personalize their program, so people could be asked to try out behaviors that were not already part of their behavioral repertoire.  Then, over the following 6-week period, each person was sent small behaviors, or “Do’s”, to carry out – a few each week. Do’s were delivered digitally during their normal working day and supported by other material such as motivational messages. The Do’s could be done quickly but did require people to expand their normal behaviors a little. Employees also had access to a ‘Do Zone’, an online community where they could share their experiences in a variety of forms and also record their progress.

Our results are based on an analysis of data  from 1,153 working age employees at the start of the program, and 261 of them who were followed up with repeat diagnostics after the 6 weeks.

The program was designed to promote inclusive behaviors and this made it possible to examine if changes in inclusive behaviors over time also resulted in changes to wellbeing and openness to change.

Some results:

The full results and the White Paper are available to download here (http://dsd.me/business/the-evidence/).  The results showed a strong relationship between being diverse/inclusive and wellbeing – the statistical tests produced highly significant effects. To show these relationships in a more concrete way than statistical tests, we categorized people as low, medium or high in inclusiveness and wellbeing, according to their scores. The results are shown in the table below:

                                       Low wellbeing     Medium wellbeing     High wellbeing

Low inclusiveness                  28                            100                         27

Medium inclusiveness            80                            476                        291

High inclusiveness                   5                              47                         99

To put these results in another way:

  • Someone with high inclusiveness was about four times more likely to have high wellbeing, compared to someone with low inclusiveness.
  • Someone with medium inclusiveness was twice as likely to have high wellbeing, compared to someone with low inclusiveness.
  • Someone with high inclusiveness was very unlikely (only 3% chance) to have low wellbeing.

The aim of the Do Something Different program was to increase diversity and inclusiveness in the employees. So we also examined the benefits of becoming more inclusive during the program. We did this by looking at the changes in scores from the start to the end of the program – to see if people’s well-being increased as they practiced more diverse and inclusive behaviors. There was a clear dose-response relationship as predicted (the correlation between the changes in inclusiveness scores and the changes in wellbeing scores were highly statistically significant, r = 0.32, p = 2x10-8). So the more someone’s inclusiveness increased, the more their wellbeing scores improved.

All aspects of wellbeing were linked to inclusiveness:

We also looked at the effects of being more inclusive on the eight different aspects of wellbeing we measured: coping, happiness, physical health, decision-making, being valued, talking to others, having meaning in life and close relationships. All of these eight aspects of wellbeing showed statistically significant relationships with how inclusive people were. The strongest links were with ‘talking to others’ and ‘decision making’. with (perhaps not surprisingly). Five of the eight areas also showed changes in wellbeing scores linked to the changes in inclusiveness within the 6 weeks of the intervention (coping with problems, decision making, feeling valued, being happy, physical health).

Why does intolerance of others affect our wellbeing?

These findings indicate that being biased and less open to others may be detrimental to one’s health and wellbeing. Having a flexible perspective to others suggests a flexible approach to life, one that is nurtured by going through a Do Something Different program. A non-inclusive and narrow attitude to others may extend to the narrowing down of options in life, a path that will ultimately negatively impact one’s wellbeing.

Conclusion:

So the picture is a really positive one for being open to diversity and open to people not like yourself.  Our analysis of the results showed that wellbeing and openness to change are strongly linked to inclusiveness - the more inclusive a person is, the better their wellbeing – in all of the areas we measured. We also showed that developing inclusiveness with the Do Something Different Diversity & Inclusiveness intervention was responsible for the increases in wellbeing because there was a ‘dose-response relationship’-  those people whose inclusiveness increased more experienced greater improvements in wellbeing.

Ben Fletcher's work is partially supported by EU Horizon 2020 grant 643735 called Do CHANGE

About the Author

Ben C. Fletcher, Ph.D.

Ben C. Fletcher, D.Phil, Oxon, is a professor of psychology, a behavior change expert, and the author of Flex: Do Something Different — How to use the other 9/10ths of your personality.

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