Why we all need to belong at work

Why we all need to belong at work

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The pandemic, the Great Resignation, a cost of living crisis, global uncertainty. It’s clear that the last few years have been challenging to say the least. For many of us, life feels tough and the need to lean on a support network is very real.

That’s not all that’s changed. The way we work, the way we live, the communities we build have all altered and society has become more individualised. That means the workplace has become a critical place of meaning, connection and belonging.

When we feel we don’t belong at work our performance is impacted, we withdraw, and our opinion of our employer changes and not for the better.

When we think about diversity and inclusion, we need to not just think about broadening the diversity of our organisation, but we need to think about creating a culture where everyone belongs.

Belonging has often been overlooked, but as we’ll see, it’s the foundation for achieving great things.

What does it mean to belong?

We all need to belong. It’s an innate part of our nature. Abraham Maslow spent a great deal of time researching our fundamental human needs, and a sense of belonging is one of them. In his hierarchy of needs, love and belonging ranked third out of five.

Traditionally that sense of belonging would have come from family, community, intimate relationships and those physically around us. With such geographical fluidity in where we live, and the world becoming increasingly virtual, those close physical relationships and traditional support systems are disappearing.

For many of us, the people we spend the most time with are work colleagues. Making belonging at work even more important.

By nature what it means to belong is a nuanced idea, and one which will be different for everyone. But research has found there are four key areas which impact a sense of belonging.

These are:

●      Being seen

●      Being connected

●      Being supported

●      Being proud

Only when those four areas are met do we feel that we truly belong somewhere.

The importance of belonging at work

On the surface it might seem that a sense of belonging is a personal problem. Why should it matter to employers whether someone feels connected to their employer and colleagues? It matters because you’ve only got to look at the numbers to see the positive impact.

Research by BetterUp found that when employees feel like they belong there’s a 56% improvement in job performance, 50% lower employee turnover and 75% fewer sick days. For a 10,000 person company that would result in an annual saving of over $52 million.

Not only that, but Deloitte’s Human Capital Trends report identified belonging as the top human capital issue facing businesses today. Belonging goes hand in hand with EDI.

You can’t have a focus on EDI without considering how you’re going to embed those welcoming, diverse practices into your culture.

After all, belonging is the opposite of being excluded. Any good EDI initiative has at its heart creating a sense of belonging and inclusion. Ensuring that those practices are applicable to all employees can empower employees, particularly those from a minority background.

The more you dig into the topic, the more overwhelming the case for belonging at work becomes.

When employees feel they belong they’re three times more likely to look forward to work, five times more likely to want to stay with you and nine times as likely to believe people are treated equitably.

We all know that working is part of everyday lives, we all need to work. I’d like to believe that we’re past the point of thinking work should be endured instead of enjoyed.

If we can create a workplace where people want to be, where they enjoy spending their time and that positively contributes to their lives then why would we choose not to do that?

It’s clear that employers do need to consider belonging as part of their culture and that proactive steps need to be taken to ensure employees feel like they do belong.

Creating a sense of belonging

As a leader, creating a sense of belonging starts with you.

It comes back to authentic leadership, transparency, sharing the business’ values and mission in a way that inspires and motivates people.

It sounds easy, but in reality it comes back to common sense.

Research has found 7 ways to build a sense of belonging at work:

  1. Treat people fairly

  2. Involve people in business decisions

  3. Transparency

  4. Fair and transparent promotions

  5. Celebrating achievements big and small

  6. Thoughtful onboarding

  7. Embracing everyone’s whole self

Reading that list it’s possible you’re thinking that you already do all of those so surely you must already have employees that feel they belong. It might be that you’re already doing those things, but it’s possible you could improve what you’re doing.

At Ambition we decided to focus on number 5, celebrating all achievements.

In the recruitment industry it’s easy to get distracted by the highest billers, and while they should absolutely be celebrated it shouldn’t detract from other achievements.

We decided to reward people who demonstrate our company values.

People nominate their colleagues in recognition of them going above and beyond in demonstrating our PRIDE values (passion, resourcefulness, integrity, drive, enjoyment), those nominated get taken out by myself for breakfast at a nice restaurant.

Taking our PRIDE values champions out for breakfast

It shows everyone has a part to play, it shows we take all types of achievements seriously and it shows that we notice. Since we’ve started doing it, we’ve noticed a difference in our employee engagement and motivation.

Celebrating positive actions and achievements based on values is also an opportunity to recognise the Corporate Services team, who play a critical role in ensuring things run smoothly and helping the recruiters to be successful in their roles.

As these roles aren’t measured by financial targets in the same way as the sales team, it’s important to ensure that there are ways of recognising and celebrating these people’s achievements so that they feel equally valued and appreciated.

Organisational culture and leadership behaviour are two of the biggest impacts on employees feeling connected to their work.

As we’ve seen, the steps to create a sense of belonging aren’t radical, they’re for the most part common courtesy. Treating people fairly, being open about how things work and decision making are all solid business practices. If the benefits of creating a sense of belonging haven’t inspired you, maybe look at the risks that come from not taking action.

​Put yourself in their position, do you think that you’d perform at your best when you’re worried about revealing your true self, or when you feel isolated from those around you? Of course not.

A sense of belonging shouldn’t be optional or a nice to have, it’s a fundamental human need and as such should be a fundamental expectation from our workplace.

To create engaged, motivated employees who want to stay with you for years and years they need to be connected to you, they need to feel they belong. It really is that simple.​

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