GuidesEmployee experience3 ways to foster a sense of belonging at work

3 ways to foster a sense of belonging at work

Last updated

15 February 2024

Author

Claire Bonneau

Reviewed by

Shawnna Johnson

Have you ever considered whether your team members feel a sense of belonging within your organization? Be careful not to overlook this crucial aspect of your work environment—it means going beyond appreciating and valuing your employees' contributions (though all these things are vital and interconnected).

Creating an inclusive space where everyone is safe to be their authentic selves impacts company culture more positively than you might imagine. For instance, BetterUp's "Value of Belonging at Work" study surveyed 1,789 workers and found that a strong sense of belonging leads to a 56% increase in job performance and a 50% decrease in turnover. Plus, employees are 167% more likely to recommend their employer as a great workplace.

So, are you ready to take your workplace to the next level of inclusiveness and harmony? Let’s go!

What is a sense of belonging at work?

A feeling of belonging at work is essential for creating a positive work environment. It promotes collaboration, communication, and a shared commitment to common goals. But urging your team to attend social events or encouraging them to ‘be team players’ isn’t enough.

Belongingness is about ensuring employees feel valued, accepted, supported, and connected to their workplace community, emotionally and psychologically.

Here are three ways to ensure you're doing everything possible to cultivate a sense of belonging and create a workplace where everyone can thrive:

1. Avoid ‘othering’ or alienating 

Othering is a social theory term to describe perceiving individuals or groups as fundamentally different. Sometimes, othering creates an "us vs. them" mentality, where those who are "other" are treated as outsiders. 

This phenomenon (even when unintentional) can lead to marginalization, discrimination, and exclusion based on perceived differences in race, ethnicity, culture, religion, or social status.

Othering may reinforce stereotypes and prejudice and perpetuate unequal power dynamics within teams. To genuinely foster inclusivity, diversity, and belonging at work, it’s essential to recognize and understand the potential impact of alienation caused by othering.

Leadership behaviors that can undermine belongingness By addressing these potential pitfalls, leaders can reduce othering behaviors and contribute to a more supportive workplace:

  • Favoritism—Preferential treatment and unequal opportunities can create a sense of exclusion (this includes consistently giving specific individuals more desirable projects, promotions, or recognition).

  • Microaggressions—Comments or behaviors conveying subtle biases that make employees feel singled out. For example, making stereotypical assumptions or using offensive language. 

  • A lack of inclusive leadership—Not actively promoting diversity, equity, or inclusion—can make employees feel undervalued or overlooked.

  • Limited access to opportunities—Consistent exclusion from key projects, promotions, or training opportunities can cause a sense of alienation. For instance, repeatedly assigning the same individuals to high-profile projects without considering others.

  • Unequal distribution of resources—Ensuring a fair distribution of resources, including time, information, and support, can help avoid feelings of exclusion.

  • Failure to address discrimination—Downplaying or ignoring discrimination or harassment can make employees feel unsupported (even if they are not directly involved in the incident).

  • Exclusive communication channels“Didn’t you get that email?” Using communication methods that leave employees out of the loop can create a sense of being on the fringe—this might show up as failing to share important information with all team members or excluding specific individuals from crucial discussions.

  • Cultural insensitivity—Lack of awareness and sensitivity to cultural differences risks inadvertently making employees from diverse backgrounds feel like outsiders.

  • Ignoring individual needs—Failure to recognize and accommodate diverse needs, such as work-life balance or flexible arrangements, may alienate certain employees.

  • Not acknowledging achievements—Not actively acknowledging and appreciating contributions can lead to feeling overlooked or undervalued. 

  • Exclusionary activities—Social and team-building activities can help team members bond. However, when organizing such events, be mindful of the potential for exclusion. For instance, if you’re considering a golf tournament, you might accidentally leave out individuals with different physical abilities, employees unfamiliar with the sport, or simply those who dislike golf (!) Aspiring to choose activities that are accessible and have a wide appeal isn’t just considerate, it helps people feel like they belong.

2. Rallying the whole team

To help instill a team-wide sense of responsibility for belongingness, strive to set clear expectations, host regular check-ins, provide inclusive leadership training, and establish shared values.

Once you have those foundational pieces in place, keep the momentum going by:

  • Expanding your existing workplace inclusion policies and processes

  • Organizing volunteer-based employee resource groups (ERGs)

  • Creating diverse mentorship programs

  • Surveying employees to gather feedback (enabling continuous improvement) 

  • Establishing cultural awareness events to celebrate diversity

These measures can cultivate a workplace culture where every individual feels a sense of ownership for promoting DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) and fostering belongingness on a day-to-day basis.

3. Tailoring benefits and initiatives to diverse needs

Some benefits, such as flexible scheduling and wellness programs, will likely have broad appeal throughout your workforce.

However, anonymous survey results can provide a more detailed understanding of employees' needs (and the pressures they experience inside and outside the workplace). For instance, while one employee may feel a sense of belonging by being allowed to advance to a leadership position, another may feel more valued and supported by having access to workplace childcare.

Additionally, holding celebrations or educational events for historically underrepresented groups (for example, ​​Black History Month, Native American Heritage Month, or Pride) can help honor team diversity and nurture a sense of belonging. 

Summary

In cultivating a positive and fulfilling workplace, leadership plays a crucial role in inspiring a sense of belonging. Leaders who actively listen to diverse perspectives, value every voice, and encourage open dialogue contribute to an inclusive environment. Flexibility in accommodating diverse work styles, addressing unconscious biases, and fostering a culture of inclusivity further enhances this sense of belonging. Leaders create an environment where each individual feels valued by allowing employees to thrive and actively contribute to a collaborative and supportive workplace. These concerted efforts result in a workplace that is not only diverse but truly inclusive and fulfilling for all.

FAQs

How can organizations ensure they're inclusive for everyone, regardless of background, age, race, experience, or physical abilities?

Organizations can champion inclusion by refining their hiring practices, promoting diverse leadership, offering continuous diversity and inclusion training, setting up affinity groups or Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), addressing unconscious biases, and supporting flexible work arrangements for all team members.

How can companies best determine what types of employee perks and benefits will be most appreciated and valued by their employees?

Companies can conduct surveys to gather employee feedback to determine the most appreciated employee perks and benefits. Regular engagement and feedback sessions help identify evolving preferences and needs. Analyzing turnover data and benchmarking against industry standards can also provide insights into the effectiveness of existing perks while staying attuned to broader societal trends, ensuring that benefit offerings remain relevant and attractive to employees. Open communication channels and a culture of responsiveness enable companies to adapt and tailor their perks and benefits to align with their workforce's diverse needs and preferences.

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