It’s been a busy summer of speaking. Minus all of the seemingly now standard travel delays, my time on the road has been mostly enjoyable. I was eagerly thrown back into the routine of attending large conferences and striking up spontaneous conversations in natural surroundings such as the hotel pool, gym, and even dinners. These are prime spots to develop below the surface relationships. However, while many of us have spent the last several months preparing for the resurgence of in-person gatherings, I noticed that some people are still stuck in pre-2020 mode. I’ve firsthand experienced everything from racial stereotyping (more on this later) to a lack of inclusive food and drink options. Exclusion is still prominent.

Is your organization’s focus on inclusion and belonging floundering during the summer months? If you are unsure, here are a few specific actions you can take in the coming months to continue to stay laser-focused on creating a culture of belonging:

Plan Special Events With Belonging in Mind

Are you planning a company picnic, a retreat, or an outing to reward your staff? Anytime you plan recreational activities, be sure to ask yourself if everyone can fit in and interact organically. Try exploring the following questions:

  • Is this something that all of your staff would enjoy doing?
  • What is the goal of the event?
  • Have you gotten the feedback you need to design an event that’s as inclusive as possible?

While exploring answers to these questions, you might start considering things that you hadn’t initially. For example, maybe instead of having an entirely outdoor event, you might add some indoor options. You may also consider adjustments such as providing shade and seating at outdoor events, planning activities that aren’t too competitive, and providing drink options that don’t involve alcohol. (I went to an event recently where the bar didn’t even have water!) Things that are supposed to be “fun” can be a real drag for people who can’t or don’t want to participate. Make the effort to plan activities that are truly rewarding for everyone.

Remove the Underlying Pressure To “Have a Good Summer”

Have you noticed that there is this inherent societal pressure to “enjoy the summer?” We put pressure on ourselves to pack our schedules as the season only lasts a few months. However, even in the summer months when we zoom in on spending more time enjoying nice weather and celebrating long holiday weekends, our lives outside of work still have a vast impact on our work lives. So, it’s still very important to regularly ask your employees what they’re struggling with and what they need to be successful. Remind your team that it’s okay to speak up about their concerns. Considering the difference in energy and pace, now might also be a great time to fix problems in certain processes and workflows that people are hesitant to bring up during other parts of the year.

Encourage Employees to Use PTO and Benefits

I’m still surprised at how many employees are afraid to use PTO. I especially see this around mental, as opposed to physical, health. I find that people are more likely to take a few days off to recover from COVID over requesting a couple of days off to recover from a traumatic world event that they are reeling from. I still blame managers and “relentless” organizational cultures for this. If you are a manager (or even a below the surface teammate), take the time now to remind your colleagues about the rewards and benefits they were promised as a part of their compensation.

Modeling the behaviors is also very important. For example, if you are that manager who had COVID and bragged about not missing a day of work, how do you think your team will deal with the same type of situation? Or, another example, if you are a manager who constantly attends Zoom meetings while on a family vacation, what behaviors are you modeling for your team?

Take some time and do some honest reflection.

And back to that example I mentioned about being racially stereotyped at the beginning of this article. I was aggressively questioned as I attempted to enter an event because the hotel staff had apparently assumed I didn’t belong there. I can’t stress how important this is. If you are partnering with a hotel or another venue to have a special event, it’s so so important to ask them about their equity and inclusion policies. There is no quicker way to ruin a fun company event than a venue calling the cops on Black employees, interrogating people, or assuming people of color are event staff.

If inclusive leadership is something you want to work on during these summer and early Fall months as we return to in-person gatherings, take our Below the Surface 30-day Leadership Challenge. We’ll send you a new lesson every week with activities and PDF worksheets to level up your leadership skills.

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