Everyone knows how it feels to not belong somewhere; at a party, at a restaurant, in a neighborhood. It makes you feel uncomfortable and insecure. It’s certainly something you try to avoid.
Yet, belonging in the workplace isn’t something we often discuss. Even though employees who don’t feel like they belong are less engaged and less productive.
In this article we delve into why it's essential to foster a sense of belonging in today’s workplace, and we have three steps on how to get started.
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Note: For our purposes, belonging is defined as the feeling of security and support when there is a sense of acceptance, inclusion, and identity for a member of a certain group or place.
Belonging = Engagement
In life outside of work, it’s quite easy to avoid situations in which you don’t feel like you belong. You cultivate a life that doesn’t include them.
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.
The same cannot be said for the workplace. If you don’t feel comfortable at work, it’s a lot harder to simply 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; which a lot of people don’t have.
All of this means that people get stuck in workplaces that don’t work for them. For five days of every week, they diligently wake up to their alarm and commute to a place where they will spend most of their waking hours feeling uncomfortable and out-of-place.
Not only is this a terrible situation for the individual, it’s not good for the company either.
In a 2018 survey, Culture Amp and Paradigm measured employee experience across seven factors of diversity, belonging, and inclusion. We found that belonging factors are most strongly and consistently correlated with employee engagement.
In fact, the one single metric that consistently and universally tied to a person’s workplace commitment, motivation, and pride was a sense of belonging.
Regardless of an employee’s gender, ethnicity, age or sexual orientation, they are more likely to be engaged if they feel like they belong. (If you’re interested, here is the report for more information.)
Why belonging will only grow in importance
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the correlation between belonging and engagement was particularly high for historically underrepresented groups. This is something employers cannot ignore.
The workforce is becoming more diverse year on 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 means there’s potential for more unique perspectives, fresh ideas, and a hotbed for innovation. But none of that will happen if these underrepresented groups don’t feel like they belong.
Only when people feel like they belong and they’re psychologically safe will they freely share ideas and confidently speak out. Alternatively, if they don’t feel these things, they’re more likely to leave and take their ideas on to the next place.
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 setting the scene for belonging can impact whether or not a person feels they belong, and even how successful they are. Thus, incorporating belonging should be part of any diversity and inclusion strategy.
3 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.
If you want more details on these tips and three bonus tips, check out our ebook on 6 ways to foster belonging. This ebook also delves deeper into the topic of belonging and the factors we’ve discussed in this article.
If companies want to build a robust and healthy business, they cannot afford to ignore the element of belonging. Not only does it affect employee wellness and happiness, it affects engagement, motivation, and retention. All of which impacts the bottom-line.
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