How to Create a Sense of Belonging in the Workplace
Adapting to remote work may not come naturally for some companies, and one of the challenges often cited is culture. How can companies build and maintain engagement and a sense of belonging among workers who, at times, may not see or work with each other for days on end?
What role do leaders play in creating connections among team members? And perhaps more importantly, is it all that important?
The Need for Belonging
Even if corporations sometimes get a bad reputation for putting profit ahead of employee satisfaction, most employers want their workers to be happy and fulfilled on the job. After all, study after study have shown that happy employees are productive employees.
And this couldn't be truer today. According to Mercer's 2022 Global Talent Trends report, one of the main factors that help employees thrive in the workplace is feeling like they belong in an organization. Even in a remote, dispersed workplace, employees want to feel there is something bonding them to the team, a mutual goal, a shared belief, a common purpose.
This feeling helps employees work more productively, with one study published in the Harvard Business Review suggesting having a sense of belonging in the workplace can even lead to a 56% increase in work output.
"Having a sense of belonging gives employees the ability to connect with the organization on a deeper level," said Vartika Kashyap, chief marketing officer at Walnut, Calif.-based ProofHub.
In other words, as the HBR study authors put it, belonging is good for business.
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What Does Belonging Mean?
The concept of belonging can be difficult to define because it is somewhat subjective. But DEI think tank Coqual identified four key elements which contribute to belonging that employees consciously or subconsciously register in their surroundings — in this case, in the workplace.
- Seen: Are employees seen at work, are they recognized, rewarded and respected by managers and peers?
- Connected: Are there positive, authentic interactions between staff and with leaders?
- Supported: When there are problems or challenges, is support available?
- Proud: Do employees feel they are working toward a goal they value? Do they align their vision with the brand, with the team?
Without a strong rating on these four elements, employees can feel distanced or disconnected from the company, its leadership team and even coworkers.
Related Article: What Happens When Executives Don't Value Employee Experience?
4 Ways Employers Can Engage Employees
The Kahoot! 2021 Workplace Culture Report found there were massive problems with Gen Z'ers mentally checking out of virtual meetings. According to the data, this is happening because employees are feeling disconnected from co-workers.
Some important takeaways from the research to help companies better engage these employees:
- 59% prefer friendly competition with co-workers
- 51% want to brainstorm with their peers
- 38% want managers to utilize more rich and interactive media
- 37% would like ideas to be heard
These four elements alone can open up a brand new world of opportunities for employers. But here are four more suggestions:
1. Start a Program of Inclusivity
About 70% of employees feel their organization fails to communicate opportunities to promote inclusion. Failure to properly communicate these opportunities can create barriers for specific demographics, leaving many employees to feel excluded.
To create a sense of belonging for all employees, managers need to bring DEI goals into focus more regularly. Employees should be encouraged to be share ideas and build on each other's strengths and weaknesses. After all, there are productivity gains to be made by utilizing one person's strength to counter another's weakness. And when addressing weaknesses, there is also an excellent opportunity for growth and development.
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2. Show Appreciation
Appreciation is one of the most significant factors for employee satisfaction worldwide. However, despite leaders' best efforts, employees can sometimes feel management teams under-appreciate their work — and others when the company repeatedly fails to offer recognition, until it's too late.
Such failures, intentional or not, can result in poor morale, reduced quality/productivity and serious talent retention issues. Managers can demonstrate appreciation for employees in many ways: from public recognition to rewards and prizes, even a simple thank you often goes a long way.
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3. Create Support Systems
Employees need to feel supported, and it shouldn't be difficult or shameful to seek out support when needed, whether personal or professional. Nearly nine in 10 companies are investing more in mental health support these days, which is a great step forward, but there's a lot more employers can do.
Employers looking to go the extra mile should consider building a positive atmosphere to boost morale. Listening is a great starting point to this. Start by asking employees questions and suggestions to help improve the work environment. Is there anything management is doing wrong? Doing right? Are there aspects leaders may have overlooked? Tick off the items on the list, starting with the easy/quick fixes to show that you're paying attention and care to put it all into action.
4. Ensure Work Is Fulfilling
Perhaps a critical factor in the concept of belonging and employee experience is the work itself. Employers should care whether or not employees find their day to day engaging and fulfilling. Otherwise, there's likely to be high turnover, which comes at a high cost.
Granted, not every role can promise eternal happiness, but companies should nevertheless seek ways to make employees happy and proud of their work. There are numerous ways to achieve this, but it can be as simple as giving a public/team shoutout to someone for their contribution to a project or assigning them tasks they enjoy doing.
Employers should also be on the lookout for deep-rooted issues where workers don't feel comfortable speaking up. Many employees don't talk to their managers about what work they like to do — and what they dislike. For belonging to blossom, the company must have trust and an open feedback loop, where managers can talk to employees, and employees can provide feedback to managers.
"Create a work environment that not only facilitates connection with fellow employees but also fosters collaboration in an engaging way," said Eilert Giertsen Hanoa, CEO of Kahoot!
Open, two-way conversations not only allow managers to determine the motivational drivers for employees, they also feed information into upcoming projects and opportunities that can help drive employee engagement even further.