How Employers Can Foster Belonging in the Workplace

ITA Group
ITA Group

two employees having conversation in the workplace

Having a sense of belonging is a basic human need like food, water and shelter. It’s an intrinsic motivator that pushes people to be involved in their environment—including their work environment. According to Deloitte, 79% of organizations agree fostering a sense of belonging in the workforce is important for their success, but only 13% say they’re ready to address the trend.

Why the disconnect and how can it be fixed? Start by focusing on how to help workers feel included, wherever and however they get their work done.

Effects of Hybrid Work

During the pandemic, workers had to adapt (and quickly!) to remote and hybrid work, changing how they interact with their tasks and each other. Companies had to come up with strategies in a hurry to meet the critical social needs of employees. A lot of these strategies were temporary solutions that assumed the workforce would eventually go back to how it was before. Even as things begin to normalize, hybrid work is not going away. Analysts estimate up to 65% of employees will work remotely at least partially in the future, whether that’s due to office space cost-cutting, employee demands or both.

The digital world is hyper-connected, but the people in front of the screens are often less connected to each other than ever. Harvard Business Review found rising rates of loneliness among remote employees has hurt productivity, turnover and burnout—however they also found simply increasing face-to-face time isn’t enough to solve the problem. More is needed to create strong bonds among employees.

Most people spend more time at work than any other activity. This makes the workplace a hub for social contact and belonging. In some cases, it’s the only place some people go to commune with others and make new friends.

Organizations are looking for ways to intentionally increase connectedness among their workforces because happier employees who feel they have friends at work are more productive, more engaged and more resilient, thereby reducing workforce instability and costs. “The more a company can offer its employees opportunities for meaning and connection, the harder those employees are likely to work and the more enduring their loyalty is likely to be,” says renowned behavioral psychologist, Dan Ariely.

Related: Employees who feel a strong sense of belonging are excited to share their company’s story with others. Find out the secret to successfully inspiring employee advocacy.

So what’s the magic behind making people feel included in an organization?

Create a culture of inclusivity. It’s the emotional connections between employees that strengthen belonging. Bringing that connection to the forefront can help build an authentic culture of inclusivity. For example, at the recent “Fostering Belonging at Work” event, hosted by the Wharton Business School at University of Pennsylvania, senior executives of Citigroup shared that when they addressed their personal struggles to be true to themselves at work, it encouraged all levels of their workforce to share and built trust between them. Their leadership found they needed to do more than take a stand on diversity and inclusion—they needed to care about each employee’s journey and how they did (or did not) feel included.

“It’s not enough to simply include people at the table,” said Rebekah Bastian, a vice president of culture and community at Zillow Group, at the same event. “[You need to] amplify everyone’s voices, clear barriers … and appreciate each other for our unique backgrounds.”

It can take time to establish these connections, but begin by finding opportunities for your team members to contribute their unique talents and experiences. Social activities and volunteerism are great ways to start this process, but think of ways you can embed inclusivity in the daily norms of how your company operates. For example, consider celebrating religious holidays that matter to the team, having an inclusive dress code that represents any and all cultures, selecting team members for special projects that align with their strengths and introducing pronouns so employees feel encouraged to be their true selves.

Focus on Purpose 

Bringing people together starts with giving them a common purpose. As Simon Sinek is famous for saying, “Start with why.” The ‘why’ is the purpose for what we do, think or act.

Survey Your Team

What are their values? How do they align with company’s values? When you clearly and frequently communicate how the company’s and employee’s values align, you reinforce how each person fits within the organization and share a common purpose.

Inspire Your Team

Motivating people isn’t about fluff and flowery language. It’s understanding what truly motivates people as individuals. Train leaders on the importance of getting to know employees through 1:1 time, observation and requesting feedback so they can personalize their motivational approach.

There’s no shortcut to learning what motivates your people. Try starting with being genuine in how you recognize them and tailoring your strategies based on whether they prefer public or private recognition. Learn if they are intrinsically or extrinsically motivated.

According to Dan Ariely, if you want to motivate people effectively, provide a sense of connection and meaning in their work. Consider the hidden forces of motivation for each individual, but focus on the importance of creating an environment where employees of all levels, working from anywhere, feel they belong.

Hybrid work is changing where and how things get done. We can help make your employees feel included, whether they’re in or out of the office. Learn how with our ebook, How to Support Belonging in a Hybrid Workforce.