Employee Wellbeing | Article

Why Belonging Matters & How to Foster More of It

Belonging matters – so much so, that lacking a sense of belonging at work can be more distressing to employees than being harassed.

Why we need to add B to DEI

Diversity refers to physical, mental, and emotional differences in a workforce. Equity is about ensuring all employees have the same opportunity to do their best work. Inclusion means intentionally involving everyone in a meaningful way.

Belonging takes DEI a step further. It’s all about examining how individuals feel as they engage with the rest of your company. Belonging is feeling seen, valued, and supported in one’s own uniqueness. There’s plenty of research that reveals just how important a sense of belonging is.

When people feel like they don’t belong…
  • Productivity decreases
  • Employee turnover is higher
  • Mental health declines
When people feel like they belong…
  • Job performance increases (*by 56%)
  • Turnover risk decreases (*by 50%)
  • Sick days are reduced (*by 75%)

*According to a study by BetterUp.

Consider the statistic about reduced sick days. At an organization with 10,000 employees, about $52 million would be saved every year. Belonging really makes a difference – for both the employee and the employer. So, how are we doing on the belonging front?

The current state of belonging

In 2021, SHRM measured employees’ sense of belonging in the workplace. Among workers surveyed:

  • 25% reported not trusting their manager to treat them fairly
  • 26% didn’t feel emotionally safe at work
  • 27% said their workplace doesn’t clearly provide opportunities for them to openly discuss issues without fear of penalty or retaliation
  • 27% didn’t think their manager encourages a culture of open and transparent communication

Additionally, the report revealed that Black employees were more likely than white employees to say their workplace discourages discussion of racial justice issues (45% versus 30%). Research shows that when business leaders speak out about social issues, people of color feel a greater sense of belonging. This is something to consider when ensuring employees of color feel safe, seen, and valued.

This gap in belonging could also be a driver of the Great Resignation. In fact, McKinsey & Co. sited it as a top contributing factor. As companies scramble to attract and retain talent, adding the B to their DEI strategy will be critical.

Tips to foster belonging

Leaders play an integral role in creating and maintaining an environment in which all employees feel they belong. To create a sense of belonging for employees, you can:

  1. Provide training. Offer course and training on unconscious-bias and inclusivity training. This will help you ingrain inclusivity into the culture of your organization.
  2. Promote new ways to talk. Teach your employees how to use inclusive language. It’s important in both casual conversations and business meetings.
  3. Encourage digital engagement. We have access to so much modern technology, so why not use it to keep everyone interacting in a positive way? Utilize a digital platform for daily recognition and engagement.
  4. Seek understanding. Periodically conduct employee surveys and facilitate specific conversations about belonging. You need to gauge how employees are feeling as individuals and assess team morale.
  5. Leverage ERGs. Create employee resource groups (ERGs) and encourage employees to actually use them. They provide the opportunity to build connections and camaraderie.
  6. Get everyone involved. Give all team members a chance to find belonging and develop professionally together. It could be through niche interests, conferences, or other various events.

When employees feel like they belong, your organization thrives. And so do the individual employees. Belonging is an essential step to self-esteem and ultimately self-actualization (thanks, Maslow). Do what you can as a leader to help fulfill this need and open the door for your employees to climb the Hierarchy of Needs!