Simon AndrewSimon AndrewFebruary 24, 2020
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11min1123

Veganism has hit the news lately thanks to a court ruling that vegans are entitled to protections in the workplace.

It seems like a step forward for the movement, but is this actually just another division across the workforce?

Veganism, as defined by the Vegan Society, is “a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude – as far as is possible and practicable – all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose”.

It centres around a diet free from meat, eggs and dairy, but also includes the avoidance of leather, wool, and any other animal-based products. In recent news, studies and documentaries, veganism has been connected to a positive impact on climate change and better physical health.

Yet for many people, it still conjures up frustration and annoyance.

Two recent reports have highlighted how this personal choice is now affecting work life:

  1. A law firm came out to say they would no longer pay expenses for any meals containing meat
  2. The Vegan Society released guidelines to help support vegans in the workplace

Both of these stories broke less than one month after a landmark hearing that saw veganism given legal protection under the Equality Act 2010.

The workplace guidelines recently set out by the Vegan Society include:

  • Providing separate food preparation areas
  • Giving access to vegan-friendly clothing
  • Exempting vegans from corporate events that involve animals in a negative way (hog roasts, horse racing etc.)

Veganism is about wellbeing and compassion. But the danger here is that by enforcing these rules, and setting out these guidelines, we’re widening a divide which we see in other areas of work and life too.

It becomes us and them

There’s an age-old psychological concept, coined in the 1970s, called Social Identity Theory.

The basis is quite simple – we define ourselves by the groups we belong to. You may be a Christian, a bird watcher, a nurse, or many other things. When you feel part of a group, you feel an almost automatic connection to other members. As any motorcyclist or lorry driver will undoubtedly tell you, you generally acknowledge and support people that share this commonality.

There are many positives to belonging to a group. But there is a flip side.

Consider football supporters. The majority are friendly, good, everyday folk. Yet the minority fight and clash because they support different teams. They wear different colour shirts and are founded in different regions, but beyond that, surely they have no reason to hate each other?

Consider the gang problem in London, religious discrimination, our historical problems with race, and pretty much any war or conflict you can name.

Like it or not, it’s in our nature.

According to Social Identity Theory, we form in and out groups. In groups are the ones we belong to and we seek comparisons with other members. Out groups are the ones different from our own. And from these, we see contrast.

Evolution makes it clearer

Survival has long been associated with being an accepted member of the group. It’s still true today, but if we look back before civilisation (around 50,000 years ago – just a blink in our evolutionary history) the idea of sharing skills, tools, looking out for danger and so on would have been more prevalent.

If resources were scarce then groups may clash. Laying claim over a land rich in fertile crops and animals would undoubtedly have meant defending it from other groups. It’s true that today we don’t face the same daily strains. But belonging to a group still has many advantages.

Not to mention isolation being the biggest cause of depression.

The impact on Employee Experience

Veganism is just one example of the challenges social grouping can bring to the workplace. You can find many more – the most obvious of which is departmental separation.

The connection between departments is often said to be the weakest link in a business, and for good reason. Human nature connects us to the rest of our team. We support them, work together and share many similarities. Other departments, well they fail to deliver, make our life harder, and so on.

Whatever the grouping, we have to find the right balance. If we create divides between people, we have to expect social biases.

Our job as employers is to find ways to connect those groups, to bridge those divides and to be empathetic to all. We have to ask ourselves:

  • What can we do to cross-pollinate our teams?
  • How can we build a better understanding and respect of these differences?
  • How do we balance the support of one group at the penalisation of another?

The best answers often come from employees themselves. And forming that volunteer group could be a way of breaking down others.

Finding common ground

Most people want the world to be a better place. To feed the poor, house the homeless, protect the planet.

These things are the underlying drivers for many vegans. Finding these common grounds will help breakdown barriers and find a way of connecting people, making them part of the same objective. Through a wider education on sustainability, nutrition, and health, people can make up their own minds but also gain a better understanding of those with differing views.

As an organisation, you can influence the lives of all your employees. That may be hundreds or thousands of people.

Do you have a responsibility to use that positively? Yes, you probably do.

If you firmly believe that meat and dairy have negative impacts on health and the environment – what do you do?

The vegan stories in the news are of people trying to do good, not attack your beliefs. The changes and guidelines that have come out, have been with positive intent.

The trouble is, we are not rational folk. You could find many reasons on paper why these things would be good ideas. But the reality? People dig their heals in, become less open minded and put up a wall. And we all move a step back.

So next time you’re looking to make changes in your organisation, think about the emotional response of employees and base your change in education. Through a shared understanding we can find common ground, and with common ground comes empathy and support.

Something we all need as part of our experience at work.


Simon AndrewSimon AndrewJanuary 27, 2020
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9min2229

The decision by Prince Harry and wife Meghan Markle to strive for a more independent life away from the royal family, nicknamed ‘Megxit’, may not seem like the obvious template for launching your next employee initiative.

However, peal back the layers of this family drama and there are some important lessons to learn.

So Harry and Megan have stepped back from their royal duties – you might have seen one or two news stories!

Harry, AKA the ‘cool royal’, is doing what we all strive to do – carve his own direction. Born into royalty in 1984, Harry has had a turbulent time with the media.

He had to deal with the terrible tragedy of his mother’s death at a young age. He was then in the public eye for going to rehab. He joined the army but was spotted at a costume party dressed as a Nazi!

Then years later we saw pictures of him dancing in a Las Vegas hotel, naked.

It’s been a rollercoaster. So, it’s no surprise that he wants to step back. He’s got a wife and a baby now, and the last thing anyone wants after three hours sleep is cameras thrust in your face.

This move is a big change, but this change is one from which we can take some valuable lessons for our employee engagement tool-kit.

Employee engagement, like the royals, is kind of a big deal

The case for engaging employees is a big one. According to Gallup, the cost of a disengaged employee is 34 percent of their salary. Apply that to the UK average (given by the ONS) and that’s £10,413 – for just one disengaged person.

You see, disengaged employees have 37 percent higher absenteeism, 18 percent lower productivity and 15 percent lower profitability. Conversely, engaged workforces outperform their peers by 147 percent in earnings per share, again as stated by Gallup.

So, employee engagement has a big impact on your retention, output, and ultimately your bottom line.

Harry’s lessons for successfully changing employee behaviour

Change is integral to employee engagement. Every business needs to move and adapt, so employees need to move and adapt with it. That’s adopting new initiatives, adhering to company values, and putting the right things in the recycle bin (it happens).

This is where Megxit is our guiding light. Here’s three key ingredients for successful change, as shown by our beloved ex-royal:

1. Autonomy

Harry decided he wanted to make a change. It was his desire to direct his future that led him to the move – and that is true of all of us. We do things because we want to, not just because we’re told to or expected to.

Just think, do you like to be given orders or involved in decisions? Do you like one route, or an element of choice? Feeling like you’re swept along, or even mechanised, doesn’t make you feel valuable. People need some control. It’s what balances the employee/employer relationship.

So, when you’re enforcing change on the workforce, look for a way to provide choice. Involve them in the decision or offer them options around the rollout, the training, or the measurements of success. The feeling of autonomy is important. Make sure they have some control.

2. Relatedness

Would Harry have made the change if he was on his own? Without Megan?

Having someone alongside you builds confidence but also determination.

Have you ever taken up running? Or been to the gym? When you do it alone, you have those days when the sofa is so much more appealing. But with a partner, those are the days they are extra keen. They drive you on, and keep momentum, and you do the same in return. Having someone co-dependent on your success makes you much more likely to persevere. You see, we don’t like letting people down.

So, when you launch a new initiative, think about the social connections that can make it succeed. Use team outcomes to drive co-dependency, or buddy people up to share their experience. People with connected outcomes egg each other on. That can be vital for creating the habits you need.

3. Competence

As part of his duties, Harry has gained a wide experience – from launching a charity to starting a new brand – but all with support.

His new direction is a chance to show his own competence.

Everyone likes to be good at something. We typically strive to be better, to achieve, to build our self-worth. Change, though often daunting, provides an opportunity to do that, and the more we can see the results of it, the better.

When you’re updating policies, or shifting responsibilities, look at the ways of showing positive impacts. A healthier diet may seem worth it when you shed a few pounds – that principle works for most actions.

Show people the difference they are making and let them see the positive reinforcement themselves. Evidencing their impact will make it feel worthwhile.

Harry’s decision to take a step back was hard, because change is difficult. But he’s onto a good thing.

Autonomy, relatedness, and competency form the psychological concept of self-determination theory – the idea that change is self-driven, with the right conditions.

With this, Harry looks set to succeed. And you can too!

Build this into your strategy and, who knows, you might not need an incredibly rich family to be crowned the Prince of Employee Engagement.




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