Five steps to workplace inclusion – step 3

Create opportunities for cross-functional interaction among the team

The critical factor for long-term integration in the workplace is social integration. We’re aiming to avoid going into the lunchroom one day and finding your new recruit all on their own. Step 3 is part of incorporating inclusion principles across all of the business.

Social inclusion is vital, because research tells us that people are more likely to stay in work when they are supported by their community, which includes family, friends, clubs, neighbours and within the workplace.

Social inclusion is a strategy, not a happy accident.

We need to look for touch points, such as films, books, TV, sport, food, fashion, events, people – you name it. This is exactly the same for all of our colleagues, but regularly people with disability need some encouragement to feel welcome. They may not have had the same formative experiences as the rest of your team, so can’t as easily develop the social fabric that helps us maintain employment.

For example, my social skills maintain me in my role. I’m friendly with my chairperson. I treat my staff with respect. I understand the suite of social behaviours that are vital to my success. But, for example, an employee with autism might not pick up that you shouldn’t refer to the boss as Davo, despite the fact that Davo’s brother calls him that. These things have to be learnt. It might be down to you to explain the cues, nuances and reasons behind certain behaviours in your particular workplace.

You don’t have to do much to facilitate this interaction. In fact, the simpler and more low-key actions are often most effective. Initiatives like flagging with a staff member: Mary’s starting work on Monday. She’s going to have to adapt to being in a large group of people. Would you make sure she doesn’t do morning tea by herself?

As with other aspects of creating workplace inclusion, your strategies will depend on your workplace and who you have in the team. Set up some situations. Let others flow naturally. Intervene only when necessary.

- Martin Wren