Everyone knows how it feels to not belong somewhere, whether it's at a party, at a restaurant, or in a certain neighborhood. This sense of not belonging makes you feel uncomfortable and insecure. It’s certainly something you try to avoid.
Yet, belonging in the workplace isn’t something we discuss very often at all. This is a shame because employees who don’t feel like they belong are less engaged and productive. This doesn't just affect the bottom line – it corrodes your company culture.
In this article, we delve into why fostering a sense of belonging in today’s workplace is essential and offer three steps you can use to get started.
Why employee belonging = employee engagement
What is belonging? Here at Culture Amp, we think of belonging as:
The feeling of security and support one gets when there is a sense of acceptance, inclusion, and identity for a member of a certain group or place.
Outside of work, it’s pretty easy to avoid situations where you don’t feel like you belong. It's relatively easier to cultivate a life that doesn’t include people or situations that make you uncomfortable or excluded. Moreover, if you find yourself at an event where you don’t feel comfortable, you generally don’t have to wait long until you can politely excuse yourself.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the workplace. If you don’t feel comfortable at work, it’s much harder to pick up and move on. It can take months of diligent applications and interviews to land another job, and the whole process takes energy and time - two resources many employees are already short on.
All of this means that people get stuck in workplaces that don’t work for them. For five days every week, they diligently wake up when their alarm rings and commute to a place where they will spend most of their waking hours feeling uncomfortable and out of place. The pandemic didn't really change this status quo, either. Remote work may remove the physical element of exclusion from employees' daily lives, but the feeling of "not belonging" can poison even digital interactions.
Not only is this a terrible situation for employee wellbeing, but it’s also not good for the company either.
In a 2018 survey, Culture Amp and Paradigm measured employee experience across seven factors of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.
We found that the belonging factors correlate most strongly and consistently with employee engagement. In fact, "belonging" is the one metric consistently and universally tied to a person’s workplace commitment, motivation, and pride. Even when accounting for differences across gender, ethnicity, age, or sexual orientation, our data showed that employees are more likely to be engaged if they feel like they belong.
Why employee belonging will only grow in importance
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the correlation between belonging and engagement was exceptionally high for historically underrepresented groups. Employers cannot ignore this, as the workforce is becoming more diverse year after year. From our survey, we discovered that Straight White Men make up 46% of people exiting the workforce but only 34% of the people entering the workforce.
This growing diversity in the workforce means there’s potential for more unique perspectives, fresh ideas, and unprecedented levels of innovation. But none of that will happen if these underrepresented groups don’t feel like they can belong.
After all, it's only when people feel like they belong and are psychologically safe that they will freely share ideas and confidently speak out. Alternatively, they’re more likely to leave and take their great ideas over to the next place if they don't feel these things.
Is it possible to foster a sense of belonging?
The reason why one person feels a sense of belonging at their workplace can differ from that of their colleague, depending on personal traits, if they’re from an underrepresented group, and which group that is.
However, there is significant evidence (outside the workplace) that promoting belonging can impact whether or not a person feels they belong and even how successful they are at their job. Thus, incorporating belonging should be part of any diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy.
Three ways to help people feel like they belong
After completing our research, survey, and report, Culture Amp developed actionable tips for effectively fostering belonging in the workplace. In brief, these are:
Survey. Ensure you are using employee surveys to discover your weaknesses and strengths. Tracking belonging and inclusion is a must.
Social. Explore opportunities to encourage social bonds through team structures and group problem-solving.
Trust. Encourage trusting relationships through structured employee programs and mentorships.
Build a workplace where every employee feels they can belong
If companies want to build a robust and healthy business, they cannot afford to ignore the impact of employee belonging. Not only does employee belonging affect wellness and happiness, but it also affects engagement, motivation, and retention. And all of these, of course, directly impact your organization's bottom-line.