3 Ways to Build a Sense of Belonging in the Workplace

April 29, 2022

Contributor: Jackie Wiles and Jordan Turner

Do your employees feel fully accepted as members of the workplace? If not, your diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives need work. Here are three actions for HR.

In short:

  • All employees want to feel that they belong in the workplace.
  • Creating a sense of belonging in the workplace results in greater on-the-job effort and high employee performance. 
  • To build a sense of belonging, eliminate outsiderness, bring everyone on board and demonstrate care through benefits and initiatives.

Most organizations actively strive for diverse representation in their workplace, but many also now try to ensure that all employees feel included there. Creating a sense of belonging — an employee’s perception of acceptance within a given group — provides HR leaders with a good opportunity to reevaluate their inclusion approach and goals. 

“Belonging is a key component of inclusion. When employees are truly included, they perceive that the organization cares for them as individuals — their authentic selves. HR helps make that happen,” says Ania Krasniewska, Group Vice President at Gartner. “It’s good for employees — and ultimately improves business performance.”

Gartner research shows that organizations with sustainable DEI initiatives demonstrate a 20% increase in inclusion, which corresponds to greater on-the-job effort and intent to stay, as well as high employee performance.

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Three actions to promote belonging

For employees to feel a sense of belonging, they must believe the organization cares about them. Take these three steps to cultivate a culture of belonging and achieve DEI goals.

No 1: Eliminate “outsiderness”

Despite progress on DEI, many employees still feel like outsiders in the workplace — which causes them to further suppress the parts of themselves that make them unique from their colleagues. Feeling like an outsider is a personally painful, negative experience, a cognitive distraction that undermines focus and performance. The office should not be a “one size fits all.” Although, most are still a “one size fits some,” with the expectation that everybody else squeezes in. 

Strive for a workplace culture in which individuality is both noticed and valued. Demonstrate care for all employees and provide routine opportunities for check-ins. Workplace support, understanding and trust all reduce the likelihood of an individual feeling like an outsider.

No. 2: Bring everyone on board

Seven out of 10 employees say their organization fails to inform them of opportunities to promote inclusion in their day-to-day work. To better communicate genuine support for the idea of belonging, make everyone responsible for achieving DEI goals day-to-day. 

Encourage employees to value what each person can bring to the table by caring for one another, advocating for everyone’s voice to be heard, and investing in their colleagues’ growth and development. Incorporate employee input into organizational values to show individuals they have a meaningful role in building a more inclusive workplace. 

Read more: Employees Seek Personal Value and Purpose at Work. Be Prepared to Deliver.

No. 3: Demonstrate care through benefits and initiatives

Benefits applicable to all demographic groups, such as flexible work scheduling and emotional wellness programs, signal to employees that you care about their distinct needs and demands inside and outside of work. Such signs of appreciation help drive a sense of belonging. In fact, our research shows that these benefits and initiatives can increase feelings of inclusion by up to 38%. 

Initiatives such as promoting diversity in succession planning and holding celebratory events to highlight underrepresented groups (e.g., Women’s History Month) are highly effective at creating cultures of belonging. Providing employees with benefits and initiatives that honor their unique contributions to the organization demonstrates that business success is directly linked to whether or not employees feel like they are accepted and belong.

 

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