Do you have your magic wand handy? What if you learned that enacting one thing could result in the following?
That one powerful game-changer is “belonging.” And while you can’t wave your wand to make it happen (sorry to lead you on there), your workplace environment will feel like a magical place once you prioritize your people’s feelings.
This intentionality is a part of DEI’s new rebrand to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB). And while “belonging” may seem like an ambiguous term, it’s really not.
According to Psychological Bulletin, belonging is the feeling of security and support when there is a sense of acceptance, inclusion, and identity for a member of a certain group or place. It’s the basic fundamental drive to form and maintain lasting, positive, and significant relationships with others.
Sounds a little heavy, huh? It’d therefore be easy for leaders to say belonging isn’t critical to company success or that they don’t have time to develop a strategy for feelings. However, 34% of people experience their greatest sense of belonging at their place of employment, and that number will most likely continue to grow.
That’s because remote work allows employees to live wherever they please. While “the world is your oyster” mentality may seem like a huge benefit, relocating also removes people from their established communities, such as their neighborhood, local associations, or favorite restaurants. As a result, people turn to their workplace to seek and establish connections.
Of course, employees can take steps themselves to find their people, but it’s really not the same as leaders creating a culture of belonging. If anything, asking employees to find their own work friendships and respectful relationships creates silos and cliques that leads to further isolation.
Therefore, leaders should create a culture of belonging in the workplace, and can do so using these five approaches.
Think about the workplace culture in the movie The Wolf of Wall Street. Yikes. That unhealthy atmosphere didn’t develop overnight. Instead, it grew from toxic behaviors that weren’t interrupted or challenged by leadership.
Adriana Roche, Chief People Officer at MURAL, believes that it’s important for leaders to first define what they want their culture to look like before jumping in. She explains: “Culture will happen whether you want it to or not, so it’s really important to be deliberate about what kind of culture you want. Define your values, what do they mean in practice, and make sure you embed them into everything you do.”
Additionally, culture is not something you can establish without continuously revisiting, analyzing, and modifying it. Specifically, Holly Danko, Chief People Officer at Unison, led an effort to embed DEIB into her company’s culture as a measure to update internal policies and recruiting practices. With support from her leadership team, Danko achieved her goals, including creating transparency around DEIB data. As a result, Unison saw a positive impact on quarterly employee surveys, an increased eNPS score, and a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive company.
It’s easier to strengthen an inclusive workplace culture if you already have one. A trickier step is creating a culture with attributes that highlight DEIB initiatives, especially if your leadership and employees are relatively homogeneous.
While it’s still incredibly important to strive for a diverse workforce, here’s the hard truth: No one wants to be “the first.”
Ivori Johnson, Director of DEIB at ChartHop, warns that “it will most likely be uncomfortable for a new hire who identifies as underrepresented, especially if you are recruiting one person at a time instead of a class of new employees. But that’s where intentional workplace culture comes in.”
Consider the following after hiring someone from an underrepresented community:
Johnson concludes, “Asking these questions helps you support your first hire that identifies as underrepresented and ensure they’re not your last.”
In short, hiring a diverse workforce is important, but so is creating a culture in which they feel valued and want to stay. Employing diverse talent is just one part of the process. Building a culture that’s intentional about belonging makes employees feel heard, valued, and respected.
Focusing on your people isn’t hard if you lay the groundwork and continue to support employees at all levels. But doing so takes constant prioritization. However, when you take care of your people, everything – from employee engagement to operational scaling – reaps the benefits. AKA, this one good decision will lead to a lot of other ones.
There are many ways to create a sense of belonging and community for your employees. A few suggestions are:
Race and gender are usually the first sub-groups People leaders consider when analyzing employee representation. But people are so much more than those noticeable boxes you can check off.
Boston Consulting Group believes that many businesses construct an overly simplistic approach to DEIB, which misses the multiplicity of identities – now and as employees age. Managing Director and Partner Gabrielle Novacek explains: “Demographic factors (like age, socioeconomic background, and immigrant status), life context (such as caregiver status or being part of a dual-career household), and physical and mental differences (such as physical disability, neurodiversity, chronic illness, mental health challenges, or even different personality or problem-solving styles) can all play important roles in shaping who employees are when they come to work and how they experience the workplace.”
Traditional approaches to DEIB ignore the intersectionality and layered identities of your employees. By recognizing all aspects of your people, you’ll create a more inclusive and personalized employee experience.
By acknowledging the reality of your employees’ intersectionalities, you’ll help them feel accepted and confident to be their true selves throughout the workday.
Despite remote companies’ best efforts, loneliness is still a top concern for work-from-home employees. It’s therefore important to ensure your people make connections that help drive that sense of belonging. Additionally, there’s a lot of evidence that points to how engagement directly correlates to profitability and productivity. Talk about a win-win.
One way to monitor employee engagement is through the use of surveys, which can help leaders not only monitor the pulse of their people, but also spot commonalities and differences between departments.
With the right technology, you can examine and break down your data to see how different populations within your workforce feel about topics like workplace culture, respect, and management support, all of which give insight to the desired result of belonging.
There’s other ways to observe employee engagement outside of survey results. Ben Harman, Chief of Staff at Owl Labs, points to collaboration.
He suggests that team leads should design projects that encourage collaboration, not only because diverse thinking leads to better results, but also because group work builds a stronger community. “Collaboration is a cyclical process,” he explains. “Working together gives people a sense of belonging from shared experiences. That leads to them feeling fulfilled, which makes them more open to collaborating again.”
An advantage to concentrating on your People metrics is that you better understand your employee’s needs as well as company and department-wide DEIB issues.
One way to discover and address DEIB disparities is to collect and compare your People data with various breakdowns, such as ethnicity by team or attrition by veteran status. It’s crucial to use these aggregated reports to inspire company-wide initiatives and drive action. Otherwise, if leadership fails to address DEIB-related incidents, distrust and skepticism emerges, potentially resulting in churn or disengaged employees.
Luckily, with the right People Analytics platform, your leadership teams can compile the necessary metrics to make informed, data-driven decisions and communicate those throughout the organization.
Identifying trends in your DEIB data allows you to set goals towards a more equitable, inclusive, and transparent organization.
Perhaps equally important to quantitative data is qualitative data, as it provides “the why” behind the numbers. By instituting a continuous performance management strategy, you can support your people, provide learning opportunities, and understand the behind-the-scenes to your reports.
Erika Cosby, Senior Director at Grads of Life, agrees with the implementation of multiple touchpoints, saying leaders should take a comprehensive approach to understand the full breadth of DEIB problems. She reflects on when companies allow for meaningful conversations to take place: “We’ve seen companies unearth microaggressions, learn about numerous rejected promotion attempts, lack of sponsorship and support, and feelings of no clear career path. Employees openly shared difficulty in navigating environments which has led to low or no sense of belonging.”
Clearly, the combination of quantitative and qualitative data is critical when leading your company, making decisions, and ensuring that your people feel as if they belong.
People are named leaders for a reason. They drive change, model expected behaviors, and hold others accountable to company policies. They also know how to make employees feel heard, valued, and respected, all leading to a sense of belonging.
As companies now have to be more and more competitive to attract and retain a superior workforce, it’s critical that they take their employees’ feelings into consideration. And when leaders prioritize their people’s sense of belonging, they’ll see benefits not only at the individual level, but at the organizational one as well.
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