A sense of belonging has a powerful impact on workplace wellbeing. Research has shown that employees with a sense of belonging are not only healthier and happier, but they are more productive and perform better. So why is the power of belonging so impactful, and how can you nurture belonging in the workplace?
The power of belonging
Human beings have a strong urge to be part of a group. It is hardwired into us from prehistoric times when inclusion in the community was literally a matter of life and death. So it’s no surprise that it has such an incredible impact on our wellbeing.
Studies have shown that employees who feel that they belong take 75% fewer sick days and are significantly less likely to experience burn-out. In contrast, employees with a low sense of belonging experience 14% higher levels of stress and 13% poorer work/life balance. A high level of belonging is linked to a range of benefits for individual employees, such as increased confidence, greater resilience and higher levels of engagement.
No wonder, then, that employees with a sense of belonging show higher levels of productivity, a 56% increase in job performance, and a 50% reduction in turnover risk.
Yet a staggering 51% of the UK workforce do not feel a sense of belonging in their jobs. So what can employers do to increase belonging and reap the vast rewards?
Here are five things you can do to build upon the power of belonging in your workplace.
Recognise individual strengths
Key to a sense of belonging is people feeling seen and valued as an individual. We don’t all work or communicate or live in the same way, and understanding different ways people approach tasks, different learning styles, different approaches to processing information and other aspects of your individual employees will help you to identify, and play to, different people’s strengths, as well as being aware of different ways they will need support.
This might involve asking people to fill out questionnaires about their working styles, or asking them to complete profiles such as DISC or Insights to help them learn more about themselves. When people are able to work in a way that suits them, and they understand how to work effectively with others, they not only perform better but they feel a greater sense of connection with their team and the wider organisation.
Create an environment of psychological safety
Psychological safety enables people to be their full, authentic selves in the workplace, and, when they can do that, they not only feel a greater sense of belonging, but they’re able to make a more valuable contribution to the organisation.
A psychologically safe environment is one where everyone feels able to express themselves, share their thoughts and ideas, to raise potential issues, ask for support when they need it or to talk about their mistakes without fear of ridicule, blame or exclusion. This enables staff to feel a greater sense of belonging and connection, and means that organisations can benefit from their range of perspectives, identify and deal with problems more effectively and strengthen learning and decision-making.
Encourage employee inputs
For staff to feel they belong, they need to believe that their voice is heard. This means creating a variety of different mechanisms for staff to contribute to decisions, provide feedback and share ideas, but also ensuring that these inputs are effectively collated and actioned. Staff don’t need to feel that every suggestion they make is taken forward, but they do need to know that you have listened and considered what they had to say.
They then need to see that some action has been taken, even if that is just to explain why a particular idea can’t be taken forward at this point. Being open to employee feedback and willing to change direction if your team highlight worthwhile opportunities or potential issues can take a mindset shift for a leadership team, but it will help you to get to a far better place than you would do on your own. Belonging to an organisation means that you can fully contribute to it and influence its direction. Otherwise you’re just a cog in a machine.
If you’re committed to building a culture of belonging, then you need to put in place the foundation for constructive allyship amongst your team. This will enable your staff to feel that they’re truly connected to one another, and part of a group that supports, listens to and strives to understand each other. This means working on inclusive communications practices, developing your mechanisms for encouraging collaboration (both within teams and across different teams), and looking at how you bring staff together to get to know each other in a constructive way.
Training, to help your team understand what allyship, positive communication and productive collaboration look like, will go along way to ensuring your culture grows in a constructive way. Mentoring, Employee Resource Groups and a coaching mentality from managers are also valuable tools in developing allyship.
Focus on your values
Ultimately, you can’t build a culture of belonging if people don’t know what it is that they belong to. Having clearly defined values, with tangible guidance on how those are lived in practice, alongside a fully articulated mission that explains the impact your organisation wants to have on the world, enables your staff to unite in the shared desire to realise your goals and demonstrate your values. 56% of employees would not even consider a job with an organisation that didn’t agree with their values, and 46% are considering leaving their jobs because the organisation isn’t demonstrating their values. Enabling staff to shape your mission and values, and making these the foundation on which everything else in your organisation is built, is the best way to build something that everyone can feel they belong to and that they want to give their best to.
Key to all of these points is that you lead by example. It must be clear to your team that the leadership are committed to driving the power of belonging, that they believe in the values they are preaching, and that they value, listen to and respect every member of staff. If leaders embody and demonstrate the culture and behaviours they want to build, everyone else will follow.
Allegra is Co-Creator of Watch This Sp_ce, an award-winning diversity and inclusion consultancy that specialises in helping organisations understand where and how to get started on their inclusion journeys, and then supporting them to make meaningful and measurable progress. Allegra is also a Trustee of Enterprise Junction, a charity that helps people who face additional barriers to start their own business, as well as being a coach, speaker, writer, and mum to two young children.