Beyond Diversity: Using Cultural Humility To Build Engaging Wellness Programs

February 10, 2021

Many companies already understand and appreciate the value of having a diverse, dynamic workforce. A diverse company equates to more unique perspectives, experiences, and insights as well as a larger talent pool; in turn, this boosts creativity, innovation, and productivity. It is most often associated with race or ethnicity, but diversity comes in many forms, including socioeconomic status, religious background, sexual orientation, and so on. While employers might already be making good efforts to recruit people of different backgrounds and build well-balanced teams and departments, they should also be evaluating whether or not certain benefits are engaging or effective for all of their employees.  

To assist with this, employers can employ something known as “cultural humility” when evaluating their wellness programs. As a recent article explains, this is a term that came into use during the late 1990s by physicians working with culturally-diverse patients. Importantly, cultural humility does not just refer to learning more about other cultures. It requires sensitivity and humble self-reflection, as the word “humility” specifically highlights the inability for someone to become an expert in another person’s culture. The article gives an example of a behavior analyst that, while having extensive professional expertise, may not have an effective relationship with a patient if they do not also understand the goals and values of that patient’s own culture (which differs from their own). By approaching their relationship to the patient as both a teacher and a humble learner, the analyst is more likely to experience success by suggesting therapies best suited for that individual instead of imposing irrelevant recommendations. The Journal of General Internal Medicine defines it as:  

A life-long commitment to self-evaluation and self-critique in an effort to address power imbalances and to advocate for others. The practice of cultural humility helps mitigate implicit bias, promotes empathy, and aids the provider in acknowledging and respecting patients’ individuality. The universality of cultural humility principles puts emphasis on the provider’s need to connect instead of being an expert on the patient’s race, culture, or ethnicity.

This is a concept that can be incredibly useful outside of clinical settings, and especially in the work environment where people are interacting, problem-solving, and working towards goals together. Cultural humility aids the development of healthy and productive connections between individuals and the elimination of obvious biases as well as microaggressions (unintentionally harmful behaviors).

 

Evaluating Programs And Benefits

Some people might picture this approach as only relevant in big, “melting pot” cities and larger companies. However, even in seemingly-homogeneous places or within smaller groups, no two employees will have the exact same background. Employers should always use cultural humility as a quality they look for in a wellness program or offering and not just because it is the empathetic and kind thing to do. Employers can leave a lot of value on the table by picking programs that only engage and serve a limited number of employees.

When choosing certain benefits and programs to implement, companies should make sure a vendor actively pursues learning more about other backgrounds and cultures. These companies should encourage clients to voice concerns about any biases or uncomfortable interactions they experience, ask for specific feedback regarding their level of cultural respect and consideration, and conduct quality checks and assessments to uncover biases. In short, critical self-reflection should be one of their ongoing professional goals. By employing culturally humble programs, companies can better ensure that their workforce’s health and wellness needs are being met, improving their value and effectiveness in boosting productivity.

Employers themselves can also use this culturally-humble approach to ask for feedback from employees on current programs and whether or not they feel respected and understood when using certain benefits. Particularly if a company experiences a period of growth, adds several new positions, or expands to a new location, it is important to regularly assess how employee well-being is being addressed.

 

 

 

Topics: Corporate Wellness


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