“Seventy-nine percent of organizations say fostering a sense of belonging in the workforce is important or very important for their success over the next 12 to 18 months, but only 13 percent say they are very ready to address this trend. 93% agreed that a sense of belonging drives organizational performance.“1
Who would have thought that the concept of belonging, a basic human need, would have risen to be a key initiative in organizations in 2023? The last three years of the pandemic have catapulted this need from an important focus to an essential one for organizations. In keeping with the survey we talked about in last week’s post, the report cited above also states well-being is right up there with belonging.
Many external factors are driving this heightened focus on belonging, but internal organizational factors are also at work. Both the shift to employees working from home some or all of the time and the increased use of related technology have had a mixed impact on communication and connection amongst workers. Organizations have rightly been scrambling to figure out how to sustain a sense of belonging to the organization when not everyone is in the office, and there is no single right solution for this.
While belonging is a universal need, how it is defined or met for individuals is not always the same. I believe that figuring this out starts with an organization asking the question, “Do we want our employees to work for or belong to our organization?”
Working for implies an obligation to something or someone. Belonging to suggests a deeper connection and feeling of acceptance in the organization. It is deeper than appreciation for the work that is done or the role that is filled ‒ it is an employee’s sense that “their uniqueness is accepted and even treasured by their organization and colleagues. Belonging is an accumulation of day-to-day experiences that enables a person to feel safe and bring their full, unique self to work.”2
Our study of and work with the Enneagram in organizations and with employees, as well as our 26 years working with leadership to build healthy cultures that attract and retain top talent, offers a few insights into how to create a culture of belonging in the workplace.
First is to acknowledge that each individual brings to the workplace a need for belonging, which we will define as a human emotional need for interpersonal relationships, and for feeling accepted, connectedness, and being part of a group. The catch is that an individual’s definition of what fulfills this need to belong often varies. Some may want meaningful relationships with others, and others may seek to be aligned with the brand (image), or to feel accepted and included, or to have a positive relationship with their manager or team members.
In building a culture of belonging it is important to acknowledge that “one size does not fit all” and that there are many ways an organization needs to foster a sense of belonging at the organizational and individual levels. Our experience with introducing and working with the Enneagram in organizations is that equipping employees and leadership with personal growth, development, and interpersonal skills not only strengthens a sense of belonging but contributes to bottom-line success.
Second, at the company level, don’t be afraid to use the word “belonging” in your company description on your career and “job opening” pages. It is not only a buzz word that today’s workforce values, but it is a differentiating factor for companies when job seekers are evaluating their options.
Third, develop a new hire orientation program that quickly engages new hires in team-oriented activities, small group meetings, and one-on-one relationship building. Set goals in the first three, six, nine, and twelve months for new hires to become active participants in the company, their teams, and their work.
Fourth, train your managers to engage in conversations with employees and be observers of their employees’ behaviors, looking for how engaged they are with their work, how active and included they are with their peers, and what their level of participation in company and team events is. A recent study revealed that “40% of employees surveyed said they felt isolated at work.”3 One employee surveyed stated, “I get paid well to do something I enjoy, and … [I’m] surrounded by clever, funny, like-minded people. And for 45-50 hours every week, I feel isolated.”3
It is the manager-employee relationship that makes or breaks an employee’s relationship to the organization, and as we highlighted last week, this relationship also plays a key role in employees’ mental health. Equip your managers with the tools to converse with and to know their employees well enough to notice when employees are losing that sense of connection and belonging to the organization.
Lastly, get your employees involved in making sure your organization’s culture encourages a sense of belonging. Ask them what the organization does to make employees feel included (and excluded). Ask them how effective your current programs are in creating a culture of belonging, and finally, ask them for ways the organization can foster a greater sense of belonging for all employees.
A culture of belonging begins with recognizing every employee’s need to belong, to feel included and accepted, and it is strengthened when leaders, managers, and employees are engaged in dialogue, relationship building, and collaboration to not just build but sustain that culture.
We’d love to hear what your organization does to build a culture of belonging. Share that with us on our Facebook page. If you’d like to explore some ideas for how to develop a greater sense of belonging in your organization, give us a call.
PRINCIPAL, TRANSFORM, INC.
1 Deloitte Human Capital Trends Report, 2022
2 Belonging in the Workplace: What does it Mean and Why does it Matter?
3 The Value of Belonging in the Workplace, Evan W. Carr, Andrew Reece, Gabriella Rosen Kellerman, and Alexi Robichaux, Harvard Business Review, December, 2019.