Employees are looking to their companies to meet new emotional needs. Their faith in social institutions is at an all-time low, they are hungry for social reform, and they have rapidly changing expectations of the workplace. HR leaders like myself are struggling with a fundamental question: What is the role of my company in the emotional lives of our employees?
At Forrester, we are letting our values govern how we show up for our employees, weigh in on social issues, and implement our diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiative. Forrester has developed powerful and practical content that has guided every step of our D&I strategy, programs, and goals.
And yet, with all that wisdom at my fingertips, I cannot shake the feeling in the pit of my stomach. On an almost daily basis, I hear employees searching for more, and I feel compelled to respond to the heavy emotional tax that our underrepresented employees carry. But to meet those needs, the word that keeps showing up in my head is boundaries. Emotional health requires boundaries, and to me, this is the first step to sort out.
It reminds me of a study I read long ago about the power of fences. At playgrounds without fences, with wide open backyards, children consistently played in a small space, close to the teacher. At playgrounds with fences, children played more freely throughout the space. Simply put, boundaries can create more freedom because they provide a mutual understanding of how far we can safely go together. In relationships, we are far better when we know the terms. My own soul searching and experience with both healthy and unhealthy relationships with work have informed what I believe to be at least two sides of our fence.
Employees have to own their self-worth. Emotional wellness starts by recognizing your inherent value. Our identities are not defined by our company, our performance, or our title. I can always tell when my work has outsized power in my life. Tough feedback or a setback shakes my confidence as a leader, wife, and mom. These burdens are nothing compared to what our employees from underrepresented communities carry. We are made to thrive on productivity and progress, but when our work and our identity become entangled, it is the beginning of the end of job satisfaction and well-being. As employees and companies are exploring more shared emotional spaces, we must keep this in check.
We are a team, not a family. This is not a new concept — but at this inflection point, it is especially important to highlight this distinction. We have been through a lot together the past 18 months. Struggle has drawn us closer. But when employees or companies speak of themselves as families, I cringe. Families and teams have vastly different purposes, goals, and covenants with each other. A family is built on unconditional love, and those relationships are forever. A team is built around a shared purpose and the capabilities and styles of the people; those relationships are for a season. Knowing the difference helps us build healthy, inclusive teams and avoid the mistake of forming unhealthy, false families.
Setting healthy boundaries is core to our mission of creating a diverse and inclusive workplace. This past year, we have made progress in other areas, as well: Our Executive Team and D&I Council have outlined Forrester’s Diversity & Inclusion strategy, principles, and roadmap for 2021. As we do this work, we will share our lessons and progress here. Follow along on our journey to becoming a healthy team, made up of people who know their inherent value and find freedom, contentment, and well-being at work and in life.