When you consider the fatiguing experience people who have lived a lifetime of inequity and exclusion must feel, the idea of talking about diversity fatigue might seem illogical to some. And yet, as humans, we have limits to our attention, care, and concern for others. Compassion fatigue is a decrease in the emotional energy towards others, often caused by the overuse of these compassion skills.
Since March 2020, teachers, nurses, and other frontline workers have been straining those skills. Nightly news stories show the impacts of this in school systems without enough teachers, care facilities without enough care, and so on. DEI Leaders, under-represented group members, and their allies have also been pouring in massive amounts of time and energy in building more equitable work cultures. Even employees on the receiving end of DEI training have put in considerable time. And for some employees, DEI fatigue has begun to set in.
What are the symptoms of diversity fatigue?
DEI fatigue encompasses feelings of frustration, burnout, and even skepticism around making workplaces more diverse, equitable, and inclusive. Symptoms include disillusionment that progress is happening and a general lack of enthusiasm for pursuing DEI goals.
Treatments and Moving toward a Fatigue Cure
Is it curable? Yes, it can be – with a fresh approach that focuses on these areas:
Create better goals. A lot of good intent has gotten subpar results because objectives were not well-defined, measurable, or budgeted for appropriately. Redefine them using the SMART format. Sample smart goals might include:
- In the next six months, we will begin recognizing religious holidays from all religions to support inclusion. We will create work schedules to allow all employees to take the necessary time off for their major religious holidays.
- To support belonging, in 2023, we will invest in offering weekly learning moments that enable leaders and employees to understand how to have more effective coaching and feedback conversations that build trust and a sense of belonging.
- To improve diversity in our hiring pipeline, in 2023, we will identify ten new recruiting resources that provide us with a more diverse talent pool for sourcing new candidates. We will also state our desire to hire diverse talent and use intentionally inclusive language in our job postings to further this effort.
Become the architect. Many DEI leaders and professionals wearing the DEI hat assume it is all on them to make things happen. Well-meaning executives bring in a new DEI leader and think that having the DEI professional in the room suddenly makes things better. Taking it off HR's shoulders and architecting a plan involving many operational leaders and employees is a better way forward. Simple ways to begin building include:
- Spend additional time asking questions and diagnosing the overarching systemic challenges across your company.
- Study best practices of other organizations in your industry and similar-sized companies with similar geographic footprints.
- Design a communications campaign, working with senior executives, to have them share something about their personal DEI learning journey. These messages should be part of operational leadership messages, staff meetings, or on MS Teams or Slack channels. Create a cadence and invite multiple leaders to take part over time.
- Partner closely with L&D leaders and invest in continuous learning moments that give employees new insights and practical skills to foster a culture of inclusion and belonging.
Stop bolting on and begin baking DEI into the company culture. Everything that furthers the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion does not need to have the DEI label smacked on it. Learning to help employees become better listeners or to help leaders foster more effective hybrid meetings can all utilize a DEI lens – without labeling it as such. The hard-to-reach employee will not naturally lean into what they call the “DEI stuff.” Get creative about how to reach those people too.
Some examples of important learning journey topics could include how to have challenging conversations and how to build a growth mindset. Offer learning framed in storytelling techniques to help educate reluctant learners on new cultures and topics through the experience and stories of influential and unique people.
For the last five years and the next 10, PwC Chairman Tim Ryan has set a high bar for organizations working to create diverse organizations with highly inclusive cultures. In a recent Forbes article, Ryan reminds leaders of the importance of never operating alone and pushing through DEI fatigue. "My experience has taught me that one of the enemies of great teams is lack of clarity, on the part of our leaders, in showing well-meaning people what they are looking for. I think that is one of the most important lessons of leadership."
How can you avoid going it alone? Schedule time this week to reflect on how you and your executives can solidify a team effort on important DEI work across all organizational levels. Architect the first edition of your new plan and get started. Your renewed vision and framework will help lift your employees out of their fatigue and help your organization take its DEI goals to the next level.