Employee Focus Groups: Reflections on Well-Being & Inclusion

by Shanone Sport, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Specialist, Department of Human Resources & Ty Parr, Director, Department of Social Services

As part of the County’s ongoing commitment to providing an inclusive workplace for all, we hosted seven virtual well-being focus groups in March 2021 to provide an opportunity for open dialogue, to strengthen connections across the county, assess employee needs, and offer support and partnership. With the establishment of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Specialist role, we also welcomed conversations on how the county is growing as an organization and solicited feedback to achieve an inclusive workforce.  Fifty-three employees from across the organization attended the sessions where they openly expressed thoughts in a safe environment and offered supportive conversations with peers on the global pandemic, mental health, wellness, and inclusion topics.  Employees also shared recommendations to guide the county forward in county-wide DEI efforts.

The key findings from the focus groups were centered around two major themes: COVID-19 and DEI.   Participants reported experiencing challenges with mental health and wellness due to the global pandemic, and challenges in moving forward through the pandemic. The County’s virtual Employee Town Hall meeting on May 13, addressed several of these concerns to help employees understand how the County is responding to their needs in these areas. Leaders at all levels were also encouraged to have conversations about their well-being and concerns related to the global pandemic.

Participants also openly expressed their thoughts and feelings on current events, race, equity, and inclusion. The major themes centered around national politics and civil unrest associated with violence towards people of color and marginalized communities; the desire for employees to have open dialogue with colleagues on topics of race and inclusion in the workplace; a need for psychological safety to be able to speak up and openly express their thoughts and ideas on any topic; a need for inclusive skillsets and behaviors across the organization.

We met with County leadership to share a high-level overview of the groups, including the following recommendations for the next steps:

  1. Establish a DEI organizational strategy.
  2. Continue professional development for all staff to focus on equity, skill-building, and development around inclusion.
  3. Engage the organization at all levels on DEI, mental health, and wellness topics.
  4. Potentially add additional check-in sessions with employees to assess well-being and needs.

As we look ahead, we will continue to create opportunities to have open conversations and invite diverse voices and perspectives to help the county be strategic and intentional about countywide DEI efforts and goals. If you have questions or feedback regarding DEI and the County, please contact our DEI Specialist, Shanone Sport at spo001@henrico.us.