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Recently diversity, equity and inclusion has been expanded to include belonging.  But what is the value of belonging at work and how do we create belonging within teams?

According to Psychology Today, in this age of relative isolation – increasingly lonely, alienated and polarized – a sense of belonging is becoming imperative – not just personally but where we work.

Traditionally we think about belonging from a personal perspective, however belonging is just as important in organizations.  When we associate value with creating a sense of belonging at work, we quickly escalate toward cultural excellence.

 

Belonging

Typically belonging is thought of in terms of how closely associated we feel with our friend group or family.  According to Brené Brown, belonging is the opposite to ‘fitting in’.  Where fitting in is assessing a group to determine who do I need to be, how do I need to act and what do I need to do in order to fit in, belonging is about authenticity.  Belonging necessitates that we are exactly WHO we are and that we fit in because of that.

Belonging at Work

A sense of belonging at work refers to feeling valued, accepted, and included within the organization and its community of employees. It encompasses the feeling of being an integral part of the team, where one’s contributions are recognized and appreciated, and where one can authentically express themselves without fear of judgment or exclusion.

Here are some key aspects of a sense of belonging at work:

  1. Inclusion: Employees feel included when they are actively involved in decision-making processes, team activities and social events. They feel like their opinions are heard and respected and that their unique perspectives are valued within the organization.  They feel that they contribute meaningfully and their unique strengths are valued (Bordeaux, Grace and Sabherwal, 2021).
  2. Recognition: Employees feel a sense of belonging when their efforts and contributions are acknowledged and appreciated by their colleagues and superiors. Recognition can take many forms including praise, awards, promotions, or simply a heartfelt thank you for a job well done.
  3. Supportive Environment: A supportive work environment that creates a sense of camaraderie is essential for fostering belonging. This includes having access to resources and mentorship opportunities calibrated towards success. It also involves providing emotional support and encouragement during times of challenge or difficulty.
  4. Connection: Employees feel a sense of belonging when they resonate with the organization’s mission and values.  When there is congruence between personal and organizational values and a feeling of being part of something bigger than oneself (Bordeaux, Grace and Sabherwal, 2021), employees feel a sense of purpose and connection to the larger goals of the company.
  5. Diversity and Inclusion: Embracing diversity and inclusion is key to creating a sense of belonging for all employees. When individuals from diverse backgrounds feel respected and included within the organization, it fosters a culture free of discrimination where everyone can thrive.
  6. Open Communication: Transparent and open communication is essential for building trust and fostering a sense of belonging. When employees feel like they are kept informed about important decisions, changes, and developments within the organization, it creates a sense of transparency and trust.
  7. Opportunities for Growth: Employees feel a sense of belonging when they have opportunities for growth and development within the organization. This includes access to training programs, career advancement opportunities and the chance to take on new challenges and responsibilities.
  8. Comfort:  Bordeaux, Grace and Sabherwal (2021), also suggest that when team members feel comfortable being themselves, are treated fairly and are respected by their peers and leaders, it creates feelings of comfort.  This allows the individual to be authentic, bringing their full selves to the workplace.
People will typically be more enthusiastic where they feel a sense of belonging and see themselves as part of a community than they will in a place in which each person is left to their own devices. – Alfie Kohn

 

The Influence of Belonging at Work

Belonging profoundly influences organizational culture in several ways, shaping everything from employee engagement and productivity to innovation and overall well-being. Here’s how:

  1. Employee Engagement: When employees feel a sense of belonging, they are more likely to be engaged in their work and committed to the organization’s goals. They feel valued, respected, and included, which motivates them to contribute their best efforts and go above and beyond to support their colleagues and the company as a whole.
  2. Retention and Loyalty: A strong sense of belonging fosters loyalty among employees, reducing turnover rates and increasing retention. When individuals feel like they belong to a supportive and inclusive community, they are less likely to seek opportunities elsewhere. This not only saves organizations the cost and effort of recruiting and training new employees but also maintains continuity and stability within the workforce.
  3. Diversity and Inclusion: Belonging is closely linked to diversity and inclusion efforts within organizations. When employees from diverse backgrounds feel included and valued for their unique perspectives and contributions, it creates a culture of belonging where everyone feels respected and accepted for who they are. This, in turn, leads to greater creativity, innovation, and problem-solving as diverse teams collaborate and leverage their varied experiences and expertise.
  4. Psychological Safety: Belonging is closely tied to psychological safety, which refers to the ability of employees to speak up, take risks, and share their ideas and concerns without fear of retaliation or judgment. In environments where employees feel like they belong, they are more likely to feel psychologically safe, which encourages open communication, constructive feedback, and continuous improvement.
  5. Innovation and Collaboration: A culture of belonging fosters collaboration and innovation by creating an environment where employees feel comfortable sharing their ideas, experimenting with new approaches, and challenging the status quo. When individuals feel like they belong to a supportive and inclusive team, they are more willing to take risks, think creatively, and collaborate with others to solve complex problems and drive organizational success.
  6. Employee Well-being: Belonging is essential for employee well-being and mental health. When individuals feel disconnected or excluded from their workplace, it can lead to feelings of loneliness, isolation, and burnout. On the other hand, when employees feel like they belong to a supportive and inclusive community, it enhances their sense of purpose, fulfillment, and overall well-being, leading to greater job satisfaction and life satisfaction.

 

How Organizations Foster Belonging

Leaders can embrace strategies that make individuals feel that they truly belong.

1. Forge Genuine Connections

Dive deep into understanding the members of your team.  Engage with each person fully while intentionally putting aside distractions during interactions.  When we display genuine interest we lay the groundwork for  making them feel at home in the organization.

2. Prioritize Their Growth

Prioritize the individual’s development over the team’s needs by supporting access to development in another area of the organization.  This sends a powerful message of loyalty and support to  each individual employee.

 

Diversity is having a seat at the table, inclusion is having a voice and belonging is having that voice be heard.

 

3. Treat Everyone The Same, Differently

Avoid favoritism as it becomes a personally painful when individuals feel like outsiders.  This undermines focus and performance, so we must strive for an inclusive environment.  In this environment, each person feels part of the group without suppressing their uniqueness or individuality.

4. Acknowledge their Unique Contributions

Go beyond generic praise and highlight the unique traits of the individual or specify contributions that resonate more deeply.  Language matters and your ability to accurately communicate the individual’s strengths is important to their understanding of value.

5. Give them Opportunities to Shine

When you really know your team members and understand their passions and talents, you can create opportunities for each person to excel.  Setting up individuals for success will facilitate a path to their becoming workplace superstars.

6. Be Person-centric not people-centric

Recognize and accommodate the unique circumstance and interests of each team member.  This promotes inclusion by prioritizing the individual’s happiness and engaging a more authentic connection.

7. Adopt a Coaching Leadership Style

Transition from directing into a more empowering leadership style.  Signify your belief in your team’s potential by nurturing problem-solving and solution-finding, all under the umbrella of collaboration.

8. Learn Together

Engaging in professional development together, as a team, is a great way to get to know one another.  To foster connections, leaders must go beyond surface-level communications to a deeper conversation of sensitive and intimate topics.

9. Inspire a Team Culture of Belonging

Belonging is a growing commodity both in personal and professional spheres.  Leaders must nurture belonging by modeling behaviors which encourage a culture of belonging.  When individuals feel at home with their team, they are more likely to thrive.

 

Final Thoughts

Belonging plays a critical role in shaping organizational culture and driving employee engagement, retention, diversity, innovation, collaboration, and well-being. By fostering a culture of belonging where all employees feel valued, respected, and included, organizations can create a more positive and productive work environment for everyone

Overall, a sense of belonging at work is crucial for employee engagement, satisfaction, and retention. When employees feel like they belong, they are more likely to be motivated, productive, and committed to the organization’s success.

 

 

 

Sources

Katrina Murphy

Katrina Murphy

Katrina Murphy is a Professional Intuitive Mindset and Confidence Coach in Ontario, Canada, serving clients across Canada and internationally. Katrina helps professionals to change the relationship that they have with themselves so they can reconnect both in their relationships and at work. She’s been featured in various publications and is the creator of the Power-Passion-Purpose Framework.

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