Excerpt from Leading in Times of Cultural Diversity

Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash

As our organizations become increasingly diverse, workplace culture around wellbeing and inclusivity is a key determinant of how valued and supported people feel in their roles and how productive the organization becomes. Hence, we need to ask what values we need to embody or, essentially, who we need to become in order to enhance how well and included people feel in their organizations. Employee and team relationships are much like any personal relationship. From this basis, we can grasp how important it is to create conditions and opportunities that enable wellbeing to occur and inclusivity to be felt that are embedded in values that we share similarly in our personal relationships. These include foremost trust, belonging and reciprocity. 

The values of trust, belonging and reciprocity support one another. When there is a sense that the leadership and staff at all levels invest in building trust and belonging, employees are inspired to reciprocate with greater investment in the organization. Practices that support belonging, trust and reciprocity, in turn boost productivity. When employees feel they have contributed shared perspectives on how well they feel in their workplace, leaders will have greater success at creating a culture of wellbeing and sustained productivity. Such is achieved by including everyone’s ideas, input, experiences and wishes for how they feel they can they get on board with their own wellness, and also how to support each other to achieve wellness and a sense of safety. 

Even if well-meaning, when ideas of wellbeing and inclusion are imposed, leaders may discovery few are on board. In one workplace, the owner generously bought every individual a year’s pass to the gym in the same building as a Christmas present. But nearly no one went to the gym. Some employees felt guilty that money was wasted on something they didn’t want and the company owner was mad at everyone that she wasted the money. Resentment grew on both sides. Had she solicited feedback on what wellness looked like and what would support different notions of wellness, she would have had different results. Getting everyone on board by gathering a shared understanding of what wellbeing looks like is step one. Had she explored further she might have discovered that some individuals would prefer to exercise in nature, rather than a gym, or at times that were not connected to work. She might have discovered, too, that some people might feel exercising in public, not least at the workplace with coworkers, might be uncomfortable, if not even a cultural oddity, or even a taboo. When our ideas around the experiences we want for our own happiness are heard, we feel valued. 

Having conversations with people about what people want has everything to do with trusting that they know. When people feel trusted, their motivation to achieve things in the workplace tends to come from the inside, rather than the outside. As a leader, the best approach to ensuring performance is to inspire and motivate. The inducements and punishments approach is still evident in most organizations and awareness around how those methods miss the objective of facilitating belonging and trust is key. Trust must be an objective if leaders want to facilitate wellbeing, sense of inclusion and one’s voice being heard. While few leaders would argue against trust being necessary for performance, many still view trust-building as a “soft” or “secondary” competency (Covey and Conant, 2016). Covey and Conant remind “It’s not a nice-to-have; it’s a must-have. Without it, every part of your organization can fall, literally, into disrepair. With trust, all things are possible — most importantly: continuous improvement and sustainable, measurable, tangible results in the marketplace” (Ibid.). 

In one study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, an increase of trust in management at one-tenth of the scale was equivalent to more than 30% increase in monetary income. The Great Place to Work Institute partnered with Fortune to produce the “100 Best Companies to Work For” in which trust comprised two-thirds of the criteria. They similarly found that those companies beat “the average annualized returns of the S&P 500 by a factor of three” (Fortune 100, 2017). Covey and Conant explain how trust affects two measurable outcomes, speed and cost: “When trust goes down (in a relationship, on a team, in an organization, or with a partner or customer), speed goes down and cost goes up” (2016). 

All leaders need to consider trust-building as a key component to employees’ positive experience and sense of wellbeing. Reciprocity is enhanced when one is feeling valued and supported which correlates to better performance. Social reciprocity goes far beyond ‘you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.’ It’s a means to effective collaboration. Effective collaboration is where each person brings their strengths, capacities, experience, assets and value to the table that another does not have and can benefit from. In this sense, each person adds to effectiveness by sharing what he or she uniquely can bring and receiving what others uniquely can bring in a relationship of any form. But reciprocity is almost a natural response to feeling included, trusted, their ideas heard, their presence embraced. This aspect to collaboration and performance is often overlooked but has comprised one of my biggest research findings among the organizations I have studied where people facilitate the changes they want to see, especially in challenging situations and environments. 

Studies illustrate the connection between reciprocity and performance that organizational leaders will need to consider. Economists show that employers who are perceived as distributionally fair by their employees generate comparatively more value due to the positively reciprocal behavior of those employees (Boss, Phillips, and Harrison, 2009). But it’s not just fairness that is critical to higher performance but rather the mentality of giving in a relationship, whether a personal one or within an organization, where service entails that you bring your best to the table for the betterment of others and the benefit of the whole. As Englmaier, Kolaska, and Leider conclude through their research, by practicing reciprocity as a value employees develop more team-working and are generally more successful (2015). Hence, performance in the organization is directly related to the values of reciprocity, trust, giving, collaboration, being included and being valued.

(Excerpt from Wanda Krause (2019). “Leading in Times of Cultural Diversity: Achieving Wellbeing, Inclusivity, and Organizational Performance. In J. Marques (ed.) The Routledge Companion to Management and Workplace Spirituality. New York: Routledge.)

First published on Medium.


Bosse, D., Phillips, A. Robert, S. Harrison, & S. Jeffrey. (2009). “Stakeholders, Reciprocity, and Firm Performance” (2009), Strategic Management Journal, 30(4), 447–56.

Covey, S. & D. Covant. (2016). “The connection between employee trust and financial performance” (July). Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2016/07/the-connection- between-employee-trust-and-financial-performance

Englmaier, F., K. Thomas & L. Stephen. (2015). “Reciprocity in Organisations — Evidence from the WERS” (January). CESifo Working Paper Series №5168.

Fortune 100. (2017). “Fortune 100 best companies to work for.” Retrieved from https://www.greatplacetowork.com/best-workplaces/100-best/2017

Krause, W. (2019). “Leading in Times of Cultural Diversity: Achieving Wellbeing, Inclusivity, and Organizational Performance. In J. Marques (ed.) The Routledge Companion to Management and Workplace Spirituality. New York: Routledge.