Belonging is a basic human need. It is the ability of an individual to fit in or feel like they are a valued member of a group, which, in the workplace, could be a group of your coworkers, your team, or your department.
In the past, being a part of a group and having close relationships with others significantly contributed to our ability to survive. Today, belonging is (usually) not a matter of life or death, but our brains are still wired as if it was. We want to be part of the group and, when we lack security and confidence, we do whatever it takes to blend in; we hide, keep thoughts or opinions to ourselves, and adopt new behaviors. It is exhausting to act like someone we are not for the sake of belonging, and that can take a huge mental toll on an individual. People who don’t feel they belong at work could be less engaged and productive than those who do. Plus, they might feel so unwelcome that they consider leaving the organization altogether.
When an organization creates a culture of belonging, it creates an environment where people feel secure and confident. Employees feel they can bring their true selves to work, share their ideas, give feedback to their peers, and be celebrated for their differences. When people feel a sense of belonging, they can feel more connected to their peers, more invested in their personal and the greater business’ success, and more satisfied with their job.
Creating a culture of belonging doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time, training, and patience to make people aware of the intentional and unintentional behaviors that could be singling someone out. Workplaces that value belonging tend to see:
- Greater authenticity and creativity
- Employee’s willingness to speak up in moments of risk and uncertainty
- Increased cognitive performance
- Increased employee motivation and performance
- Increased physical, emotional, and mental well-being
Howard Ross, a global thought leader on unconscious bias, identified the five qualities of belonging in his latest book, Our Search for Belonging: How the Need for Connection is Tearing Us Apart. These 5 key qualities of belonging include:
- A shared identity: We feel a community connection with other people in our social groups.
- A shared destiny: The belief that what happens to you might also happen to me.
- A sense of interdependence: We must rely on each other in some way, either directly or indirectly
- Shared values: We may not agree on everything, but we generally share a set of overall values that connect us.
- An ability for people to feel they can be themselves fully
5 Ways to Boost Workplace Belonging
From creating safe spaces for employees to be their authentic selves to providing training for new managers, there are quite a few ways organizations can invest in building a culture of belonging. While there isn’t usually one single initiative that brings everyone together, these initiatives have a snowball effect when combined with your larger hiring and culture initiatives. Keep at it and, over time, you’ll create a culture of belonging at your organization.
1. Workplace Allies
Allies are people with privilege who try to use their influence to magnify the voices of underrepresented or marginalized groups. Allies in the workplace seek out opportunities to advocate for others and they help create a support system that greatly improves the employee experience.
So, how can businesses ensure these support systems are in place and employees have access to other coworkers? It starts by creating opportunities for peers to connect outside of meetings to meet new people and grow stronger relationships.
One Slack application, Donut, randomly pairs two employees together and encourages them to get to know each other. They can find 10-15 minutes to chat over coffee (donuts optional) and meet someone else in the organization they otherwise might not have met. If you don’t use Slack or Donut, you could be “old-school” and just use an Excel sheet to have people can sign up. The key is to create an intentional tool that makes this opportunity more available and call attention to it.
Another great opportunity for larger organizations to give their employees a support system is with employee resource groups (ERGs). Employee resource groups (ERGs) give employees an opportunity to meet like-minded people, share their culture and values, raise awareness, and tackle issues in the workplace. They typically help raise awareness for the needs of underrepresented groups, like black, Hispanic, and Asian employees, as well as women, parents, LGBTQ, and veterans. ERGs make it easy for employees to find an internal support system and meet people who understand their life experiences.
2. Collect Feedback
Change can’t happen without listening. What you don’t want is your employees feeling they have no one to turn to when they feel they don’t belong, especially if they don’t feel comfortable bringing their concerns to their manager.
Employee pulse surveys can be the perfect solution to this. A quarterly or monthly anonymous survey can capture quantitative and qualitative feedback around inclusivity and the overall employee experience at your company. This can allow you to measure and track scores over time and drill down into results by office location, team, department, etc. to identify areas of growth in your organization and help you create new initiatives to tackle these issues.
Today’s workforce – and especially managers – need a whole new set of skills to succeed. Unconscious bias, diversity, and inclusion training are a crucial part of making people aware of their own privilege and bias, as well as teaching them how to act with empathy towards others.
Learning these skills takes time and, most importantly, practice; it is crucial that managers undergo this training in a supportive environment where they can ask questions and learn from their peers. This can be done through in-person training or through live online learning, like Hone.
4. Team Bonding
It’s important to give your team opportunities to get to know one another outside of the workplace. A change of scenery can get everyone out of “work mode” and allow employees to meet new people and strengthen existing relationships.
Always make sure you take into account everyone on your team’s preferences when it comes to planning an event. Team happy hours, for example, are common team building events, but non-drinkers on your team could feel uncomfortable or excluded at a bar. Try to plan inclusive events that everyone can enjoy.
Have remote employees on your team? Host a virtual event! Boardgame and trivia nights can help cultivate feelings of inclusion and belonging. If you’re ever unsure what type of event to do next, just ask! Survey your teammates on which virtual team building event they’d like to be a part of and pick whichever gets the most votes. At Hone, we’re rather fond of the Jackbox games and Codenames (our CEO Tom’s personal favorite).
5. Frequent, ongoing feedback
One-on-one meetings are an essential tool for building and maintaining trust. They become increasingly important for remote employees to feel connected and heard, as well. According to Gallup’s 2017 State of the Workplace survey, the single most significant factor impacting job satisfaction is employees’ 1:1 relationship with their manager.
When done right, 1-on-1 meetings can drive greater productivity and employee satisfaction because it gives managers an opportunity to connect with their employees and ask how they are doing – how they are really doing. If an employee is experiencing toxic or exclusionary behavior in the workplace, a private 1-on-1 meeting can be the perfect way to voice their concerns and share their personal experiences with their manager.
Want to learn more about how to foster a culture of belonging? Check Hone’s “The Dangers of a Culture of Conformity” class to learn the benefits of workplace belonging, the science behind this evolutionary human need, and more.