One of the quirks of enabling belonging in the workplace is that it is obvious and challenging, but not obviously challenging. As a result, the importance and urgency of working to develop belonging are often overlooked or ignored by an organisation’s leadership.

Belonging is the feeling of being valued, respected, and supported in the workplace. Employees who feel like they truly belong are more engaged, productive, and loyal.

The benefits are hard to argue against, but some leaders may seek to avoid the work of belonging because they think it’s too hard, or that success is too difficult to measure. Leaders may also fall into the trap of thinking that because belonging is so obvious, it’s not that important.

They may think that belonging is obvious in the same way that Tuesday is obvious. Most people know what day of the week it is; you don’t need workplace initiatives to teach people that. But that’s not how belonging works. It’s a concept that may make perfect sense, but it involves any number of moving parts. It requires delicacy, intention, focus, and hard work.

But if you’re honest with yourself, you already know that this is hard work worth doing. To get you started, here are five strategies that leaders should be taking in implementing belonging:

1. Lead By Example

It is vitally important that leadership both champion and live their organisational DE&I strategies. A business can have the best strategy in the world but if leadership isn’t actively demonstrating support for it, it will go nowhere.

Ideally, leaders need to not only set clear expectations of respectful and inclusive behaviour from everyone in the organisation but also role model it on a daily basis. This is where inclusive leadership training can help in establishing confidence for managers at all levels.

2. Foster Psychologically Safe Communication

Open and honest communication is key to successful implementation of belonging. Leaders can encourage this by creating an atmosphere where people feel “safe” to have that open and honest communication – where they feel reasonably certain that their ideas will not be dismissed out of hand, nor that things are being ‘hidden’ from them by higher-ups.

You can develop this in a number of ways. It could be as simple as developing an agreed structure to meetings within the business, which help them to be inclusive and safe spaces for people to perform at their best. A key to this comes in creating feedback channels that allow for honest feedback (ie, opportunities for employees to express concerns/suggestions without fearing that doing so will negatively impact their standing in the organisation).

3. Applaud Efforts and Achievements Across All Levels

Recognition is a powerful tool for fostering belonging. After all, an inherent part of belonging is the sense of being ‘seen’ and ‘heard.’ So, it’s important to publicly recognise individual and team successes at company meetings, in newsletters, or through internal recognition programs.

Special effort should be made to ensure that recognition isn’t too heavily weighted; it may be easier for you to see what leaders and managers are doing but if other employees feel ignored they’ll be less inclined to support those leaders and managers.

Related to the above, don’t limit your recognition to just meeting targets. Consider praising teamwork, mentorship, or ‘going the extra mile.’ Be sure to celebrate milestones like birthdays or work anniversaries; don’t let someone’s fifth or tenth anniversary at your organisation go unnoticed!

4. Remember: Belonging Is For Everyone

When we say belonging is for everyone, we mean everyone. In the past, efforts at belonging have focused too much on elevating specific groups. And the work of doing that has too often been placed squarely on the shoulders of those groups. As a result, the experience has sometimes been isolating rather than integrating.

Belonging should not necessarily be seen as another DE&I initiative. For belonging to work, you need everyone on board. You need everyone to feel and believe that the organisation’s mission and goals are relevant and important to them. Everyone needs to feel heard. Which means that each member of an organisation should be welcoming and feel welcomed. And the organisation should do its best to consider the challenges to belonging that all employees face.

5. Share Your Values

At Talking Talent we’re fond of the old phrase: “Talk the talk and walk the walk.” It’s OK to emphasise the first part of that statement from time to time. In other words, if you’re genuinely putting in the effort to build belonging, don’t be afraid to let everyone know. Building an authentic brand of commitment to belonging will attract top talent that is like-minded and keen to play an active part.

One way to build such a brand is by sharing stories of your DE&I initiatives (via employee stories, testimonials, case studies, etc), and by actively seeking employees who can and want to play a part in those initiatives.

We’ve only just begun…

The above five strategies are not the be-all-end-all of belonging. As stated above, it’s a long and difficult – but ultimately worthwhile – process.

Remember: the benefits of fostering a sense of belonging in the workplace are numerous and include: increased employee engagement; enhanced productivity and innovation; reduced absenteeism and turnover; and improved ability to attract top talent.

Lucinda Quigley
Lucinda Quigley
Head of Client Solutions EMEA, and Executive Coach at Talking Talent | + posts

Having spent 15 years working in publishing gaining commercial and managerial experience Lucinda started her coaching career by running her own business before joining Talking Talent​ in 2019.​ Lucinda has developed and delivered inclusive leadership programmes for clients such as Blackrock, Morgan Stanley and NatWest, supporting diverse talent to thrive within the workplace.​ Talking Talent is a global business well known for providing award-winning DE&I programmes and coaching within world-renowned organisations.