April 18 2022

How HR teams can unlock a sense of belonging at work

When we feel comfortable, we feel a sense of belonging. And when we feel like we belong, we can bring our A game to work and can achieve so much more. But how can you foster a sense of belonging at work among your employees, and is it worth it? Let’s take a look. 

What is a sense of belonging at work?

We humans have an instinctive need to belong. It‘s crucial to our happiness and our mental and physical wellbeing. 

A sense of belonging at work is best described as being able to show up, contribute, and be accepted for your authentic self. 

The world is an increasingly polarised place with populism and tribalism on the rise. It’s thought that many are now looking to the workplace for a sense of meaning and solidarity. That’s because seemingly, it’s becoming harder to find these things in our society.

Why diversity, equality, and inclusion (DEI) policies alone won’t create a culture of belonging

In the US, businesses spend nearly $8 billion each year on diversity and inclusion (D&I) training and yet 40% of employees still feel isolated.

The future of diversity, equality, and inclusion looks bright. But while a DEI policy may promote diversity, if HR teams don’t foster a sense of belonging at work, then we’re still missing the mark when it comes to inclusion.

Some suggest that belonging is one of the most powerful predictors of DEI efficacy in the workforce. 
What we can say for certain, is that DEI policies without a culture of belonging, cannot be viewed as true inclusion.

How does a culture of belonging positively impact the workplace?

Simply put, a culture of belonging is good for business. Here’s why:

1. Employees perform better

Companies with employees that feel a strong sense of belonging report higher performance. In fact, according to research, these companies boast a 56% increase in overall performance. Not bad, eh?

2. Employees are more engaged

A sense of belonging at work emerged as the greatest driver for employee engagement, according to a report published at the end of 2020. 

Without a culture of belonging, we risk workplace exclusion. This is when employees become disengaged and unmotivated because they simply feel left out. 

Disengaged employees cost the UK economy £340 billion a year. For this reason, encouraging engagement and belonging must be a top priority for HR teams.

3. Employees help generate greater profitability

According to Gallup, engaged employees are 21% more profitable. 

Employees who belong at work feel that their feedback and contribution is valued. This helps them feel that the work they do is important. This is crucial to job performance.

4. Employees stay longer and are absent less often

According to Betterup, a culture of belonging decreases the risk of turnover by 50%. This shows that employees who feel a sense of belonging at work are less likely to leave their jobs.  

The same article claims that employees who feel included are 75% less likely to take sick days. That equates to a huge boost in productivity of your workforce. 

In contrast, research shows that 72% of those who don’t feel they belong at work are considering leaving their job. So employees who experience exclusion are more likely to quit. That equates to a whopping 11.5 million people possibly leaving their job because of workplace exclusion.  

5. Employees work better as a team

Investing in the wellbeing of employees benefits the whole organisation. We need look no further than a 2016 study. This study shows that individual recognition create a sense of belonging that boosts the performance of the whole team. It also boosts team cohesion. 

On the other hand, all it takes is for one team member to experience exclusion for the cohesion of the whole team to suffer. That’s because by working towards shared goals, we feel part of a unit. 

4 Ways to foster a culture of belonging in the workplace

According to Coqual, a successful culture of belonging is one where employees feel:

  1. Seen
  2. Connected
  3. Supported
  4. Proud 

The question now is, how can you fulfil these four essential components when it comes to your employees?

1. Invite honest feedback so that employees feel seen

According to the Gallup great workplace award, one of the key practices of highly engaged companies was an environment of open and consistent communication. 

The CIPD suggests organisations who are serious about a creating a sense of belonging at work should “encourage a speak-up culture” with a well-publicised complaints procedure.

Asking for feedback and taking it seriously shows that management cares about getting things right. Try asking for anonymous feedback so that employees feel psychologically safe when giving their views. 

You could also consider an employment engagement survey. This will help you measure engagement and wellbeing. It’s also a good way of helping HR to identify any issues at an early stage.

2. Implement strategies so that employees feel connected

Employees feel connected when they have meaningful relationships with their managers and colleagues. Encouraging these connections can be done through team meetings and group activities. These can be in person or online. These are opportunities for your employees to share their unique perspectives.

Workers also feel they belong at work when they are aligned with the organisation’s core values and goals. As a result, team members who are included in and made part of a broader higher purpose show higher engagement scores.

3. Training and hiring Inclusive leadership ensures team members feel supported

A culture of belonging starts at the top. That’s why it’s important for your organisation’s managers to develop inclusive leadership skills. These should be viewed as a long term investment and therefore a core business priority. 

Developing individuals into inclusive leaders will help ensure that all employees are treated fairly. Leaders should be competent in making team members feel valued. Importantly, they should be given the resources and support they need to help employees achieve their full potential.

An inclusive manager will foster a culture of psychological safety among employees. This is an environment where employees feel safe sharing their feelings without negative repercussions. 

According to research by Betterup, individuals with inclusive leaders enjoy 50% higher performance rates. They also report 150% greater sense of belonging at work when compared to teams with leaders lacking inclusive leadership skills. 

4. Recognition is vital for employees to feel proud

According to a 2017 LinkedIn survey, the highest rated indicator for belonging in the workplace was “being recognised for my accomplishments”.

Inclusive managers can help do this by checking in with employees through one-on-one meetings. For this reason, it makes sense to move away from annual performance appraisals. Instead, regular feedback sessions give employees a sense of control over their professional development. 

A successful reward and recognition (R&R) programme will also nurture a culture of belonging. However, it’s important to create an inclusive approach to R&R. Focusing solely on rewards that are tenure-based means that newer recruits could feel left out. 

Key Takeaways

  • 11.5 million workers in the UK are thinking about leaving their job because of workplace exclusion.
  • Belonging starts from the top with the hiring and training of managers that have inclusive leadership skills. 
  • A culture of belonging is good for business. This extends to profitability, performance, and lower overhead costs. 
  • DEI policies are vital. But without strategies for integration, they are not enough on their own.