Creating a sense of belonging in the workplace

11 July, 2018
A sense of belonging is closely connected to motivation, commitment, pride, and generally having a positive attitude towards work.

Creating a sense of belonging in the workplace

How do business leaders ensure their employees feel a sense of belonging in the workplace? Why is this important?

These were some of the questions covered in a recent survey conducted by Culture Amp and Paradigm. The focus of the survey was on whether people feel a sense of belonging in their workplace. This is important as a sense of belonging is closely connected to motivation, commitment, pride, and generally having a positive attitude towards work. After reading this article, if you’d like to book a free 30-minute call with us to discuss developing a sense of belonging for your employees, please use this link.

What is ‘belonging’?

According to the report’s definition, belonging is where workers feel secure, supported, accepted, and included. It is another way of analysing a workplace other than looking at diversity or inclusiveness. In fact, the report highlights it is often better to create a sense of belonging in the workplace rather than focusing business efforts to improve employee engagement by enhancing diversity and inclusiveness. Developing a sense of belonging has become particularly relevant in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the resultant home working and an increased focus on diversity and inclusion.

So, how do you create a sense of belonging in the workplace? The report offers six approaches that businesses can take to achieve this goal. They are:

  • Be open about belonging and encourage discussions
  • Establish a shared vision
  • Measure and analyse
  • Foster better social bonds
  • Establish mentoring initiatives
  • Be proactive about inclusion

Let’s look at each in more detail.

1. Be open about belonging and encourage discussions

The interpersonal barriers that exist between individuals in the workplace often manifest themselves as a lack of diversity, respect, or inclusiveness. However, these barriers usually exist because of simple ignorance. In other words, individuals do not have a deep enough understanding of the people they work with.

This isn’t about understanding their skills, role, or responsibilities. Instead, it is about understanding the person – what motivates them, what are their ambitions, what do they like and dislike, etc. It also involves getting an understanding of the person outside work, including homelife, hobbies, and interests.

Once individuals have this level of understanding, interpersonal barriers start to dissolve.

Of course, it is not possible for business leaders to insist that employees share information about their personal lives with their colleagues. Leaders can, however, take steps to set a positive example by being more open. The way to do this is through storytelling.

For example, encouraging employees to share their experiences where the focus of the discussion is on improving the business. Business leaders must also become effective storytellers, so they can better communicate their objectives and vision for the company.  However, many leaders are uncomfortable with the idea of sharing stories and becoming effective storytellers. Learning Maps are a proven approach that help managers to do this in a more structured and repeatable way.

2. Establish a shared vision

This point follows on from the last one in many regards. It involves establishing and communicating a vision for the organisation that everyone shares and feels a part of. This ensures each member of the company feels they are making a real and genuine contribution, i.e. they feel like they belong.

This is connected to the previous point because one of the best ways to communicate this vision is by storytelling. This method of communication improves understanding of the vision overall as well as understanding in relation to how individuals fit into the vision.

Other things the report highlighted that can help companies establish a shared vision is to regularly review the company’s culture and values to ensure they still contribute effectively to achieving the vision. It is also important to allocate time to help employees understand both the vision in general and how they fit into it.

3. Measure and analyse

It is not possible to make comprehensive improvements in any aspect of business without measuring performance and analysing what can be improved. This applies to creating a sense of belonging too.

One way of measuring this is by conducting regular engagement surveys of employees. The results of these surveys often give an indication of where a business needs to focus its efforts.

Depending on the business, it may also be possible to tailor surveys on specific topics such as diversity.

4. Foster better social bonds

According to the report, research indicates that people become close to those they work closely with, even when they previously disliked them. When people feel close to those they work with, they feel a greater sense of belonging in relation to the overall business.

Companies can use this knowledge in a variety of ways. This includes looking at the structure of teams, the formation of working groups, the layout of offices, and more.

5. Establish mentoring initiatives

The report says that mentoring initiatives can help to create a sense of belonging in the workplace. This can benefit everyone in the company, but it is particularly helpful to groups of people who often feel a sense of exclusion.

Mentoring initiatives can be formal or informal, but it is important that mentors receive training and guidance to get maximum results.

6. Be proactive about inclusion

The report explains how easy it is for companies to be unintentionally exclusive. The example it gives is of a wall or website page containing images of all the senior executives. If they are all middle-aged white men, large sections of the workforce might feel excluded.

The answer is to be proactive about inclusion. This involves regularly taking a step back to see what more the company can do, while also trying to understand the viewpoint of others.

In 2020, we recorded an interview on our podcast (Engaging Internal Comms) about the importance of communicating a Diversity and Inclusion (D and I) strategy and you can listen to it here.

Re-focusing on a sense of belonging

The main focus of the report is to re-focus efforts from establishing a more diverse and inclusive workplace to creating one that has a greater sense of belonging. The above six tips will help you do this, with the positive side effects of increased diversity and inclusivity.

Sharing the big picture of your organisation

The Big Picture People passionately believe that all employees deserve to feel included, to feel that they belong and to feel that the work they are doing has meaning.  All too often, employees work in a bubble where they only have a limited view of what the organisation does and how they contribute towards its overall vision and purpose.

By putting employees in the picture, our big picture approach to communicating company values, vision and strategy has helped our clients to foster a sense of belonging across diverse teams and thus improve business performance. Our focus is on helping clients to share their big picture vision and to facilitate meaningful conversations about it that lead to sustainable behaviour change. You can read examples of our work in this area on our case studies page.

Get in touch with us or book a free 30-minute consultation call to find out how you can apply our big picture approach to improve the sense of belonging in your organisation.

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