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The B Word: Why Belonging Matters in the Workplace


As we head into the new year many organizations are looking for ways to meet their goals and gain an edge over their competition. Their efforts to find the secret sauce to propel them to success often include investing heavily in technology, marketing, and talent acquisition. However, there’s one often-overlooked factor that can make all the difference in a company's performance: a sense of belonging among employees.


Belonging is a key component of inclusion and can cover a lot of ground. But what the “B word” really boils down to is feeling valued and being able to bring your authentic self to work


And while some organizations may want to dismiss belonging as a “warm and fuzzy” concept manufactured by HR, they do so at their own peril. Because the data is clear: belonging is a key ingredient to organization and business success.


Why belonging matters

It increases retention.

Employees who feel valued and connected to their workplace are 5 times more likely to want to stay at their company for a long time. This not only reduces turnover costs but also contributes to the stability and continuity of the workforce. 


And on the flip side, a McKinsey survey reveals that those who are leaving their organizations often do so because they don’t feel valued and lack a sense of belonging. Instead, employees want to work at places where they feel cared for, valued for their contributions, and celebrated for who they are.


It enhances employee well-being and engagement.

Employees who experience a sense of belonging at their workplace are 3 times more likely to look forward to coming to work, a sign of a healthy culture. Lack of belonging, on the other hand, can quickly create trust issues, diminish an employee's self-worth, and erode engagement and workplace culture.


What’s more, the holistic well-being benefits of belonging are clear. As anyone who’s ever felt excluded can tell you, feeling a sense of belonging can reduce stress and anxiety. We’ve all experienced that pit in our stomach when we feel like we don’t fit in. But when employees feel supported and accepted they’re less likely to experience feelings of isolation, depression, and anxiety, all of which can negatively impact mental and physical well-being and job performance.


At a time when workers are actively seeking out companies that support their mental health, creating a sense of belonging in the workplace is the ultimate win-win for employees and employers.


It leads to better business performance.

Companies do better when employees feel like they belong. Not only do revenues grow up to 3x faster at companies that foster belonging, but a breakthrough study on the topic reveals that belonging is linked to a stunning 56% increase in job performance, a 50% drop in turnover risk, and a 75% reduction in sick days. 


That’s a lot of numbers, but what it boils down to is this: for a 10,000-person organization this would translate into an annual savings of $52 million – hardly pocket change. 


Source: SHRM


It amplifies diversity and innovation.

Belonging goes hand in hand with diversity and inclusion. And when individuals from diverse backgrounds feel welcome and valued, they’re more likely to contribute their unique perspectives and ideas. This diversity of thought is a catalyst for innovation and problem-solving within the organization. 


One report found that having more women in leadership positions was associated with higher profitability – specifically, a 1% increase in female representation at the executive level was associated with a 3.5% increase in net profit margin. But gains like these don’t happen simply because diversity exists. While diverse voices must be present, the magic truly happens when organizations promote the open dialogue and dismantling of barriers that allow those voices to feel they belong – and that, as a result, their contributions will be heard and valued.


How to foster belonging

With all these benefits you’d think it would be a no-brainer for organizations to ensure they’ve created a culture of belonging. And yet a 2021 survey measured employees' sense of belonging in the workplace and found that 26% didn’t feel emotionally safe at work. And so (sadly), belonging continues to be a competitive advantage for companies who do value it. 


Below are some initial suggestions to ensure your organization is reaping the benefits of belonging for everyone involved.


Find out how people feel. 

The best way to know whether employees feel like they belong – and thus where your efforts are best targeted – is to ask them. Anonymous surveys can be a great way to gauge workplace sentiment. Survey questions that can help tease out belonging include things like: 

  • I feel free to share ideas and suggestions.

  • I feel recognized for my contributions to the team.

  • I feel respected by my co-workers.

  • I feel like I can be my authentic self in the workplace.

If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you’ll know that taking action after a survey is a mountain I’m willing to die on. So, you should only go down this road if you’re willing to make changes based on the feedback you receive.


Encourage open communication.

Workers want to feel safe asking questions and expressing their views. Creating an atmosphere where open communication is the norm and respectful challenges are welcome is a necessary precursor for belonging. Leaders should strive to provide an open forum for discussion, even (especially!) if it involves a sensitive topic. Having “taboo” topics only reinforces a sense of exclusion.


Support ERGs.

Often employee resource groups are the first frontier of creating a sense of belonging at work, and sometimes they’re the only place an employee can truly feel they belong. Supporting (and funding!) these groups can help them take the safe space they’ve created outward into the entire organization.


Communicate inclusive values - and walk the talk.

Saying your company values authenticity and inclusion is great, but for people to really feel like they belong you must put these values into action on a regular basis. Belonging isn’t a pick-and-choose situation. It applies to everyone at all levels of the company.


Support flexible work arrangements.

As many companies continue to ramp up their RTO efforts, I’d bet good money that belonging has taken a hit at many of them. Because belonging isn’t just about who you are, but also about how you choose to (or have to) live your life. Companies need to respond to this by working with employees to create the right conditions for them to get work done and be successful.


Demonstrate commitment through benefits and initiatives.

Benefits must be inclusive and equitably applied, such as extending the same bereavement leave for domestic partners as for married couples, or, if applicable, flexible holidays that allow people to accommodate their religious or cultural beliefs. Research shows these benefits and initiatives can increase feelings of inclusion and belonging by up to 38%.


You can probably tell I have a lot of passion for this topic, and I hope you do, too. Because while fostering a sense of belonging in the workplace is the right thing to do, it's also a strategic imperative for long-term business success. Going forward, companies that prioritize belonging will be the ones who stand out and succeed. I hope you’ll do what you can to join their ranks.


Interested in learning more about building human workplaces? Send me a note at Katherine@worksproutpartners.com.




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