Belonging is what allows employees to feel like they can be their authentic selves without fear of different treatment or punishment.
Creating a culture of belonging in the workplace may sound like a fluffy, nice-to-have aspiration. Perhaps it is something to focus on when the “real work” is done—whether that “real work” is hiring enough staff, getting through your annual survey, implementing a new falls prevention program, or starting a capital campaign … for many, focusing on creating a sense of belonging at work is not a goal on a strategic plan. But current research proves that it should be.
People spend nearly 25% of their adult lives at work, posing a significant influence on a person’s wellbeing, life satisfaction, and physical and mental health. According to the Mayo Clinic, “When we feel we have support and are not alone, we are more resilient…decreasing the physical and mental effects of [challenging] situations.”
One study, The Belonging Barometer by the Center for Inclusion and Belonging, found that participants who experienced lower stress in life reported a high level of workplace belonging, and those who experienced high stress felt more excluded at work. Beyond benefits to our valuable team members, workplace belonging impacts an organization’s success. When employees feel a sense of belonging at work, employers see improvements in attracting and retaining staff, reducing absenteeism, increasing engagement, creativity, and loyalty, and producing higher quality work outcomes. Research has found that employees who experience a high level of workplace belonging were shown to have a greater willingness to recommend a job in the organization as well as a longer length of service.
As we explore why belonging is so important, we also need to examine how diverse thinking or decision making plays out in organizations, as direct care workers are a highly diverse component of the aging services workforce. It is well known that diverse groups of people are better at solving problems; research suggests that diverse teams tend to be more innovative and higher performing. But this is only the case if the diverse team members experience psychological safety and a sense of belonging, meaning they feel safe to speak up, be authentic, and safely dissent in a group. Diversity alone does not reap benefits. Team members need to actually feel comfortable enough to share their diverse perspectives, because a team of diverse people who experience group-think won’t design creative solutions (The Belonging Barometer by the Center for Inclusion and Belonging).
In fact, when Google looked into their highest performing teams, the most contributing factor was psychological safety and belonging—more so than the number of noted “high performers” assigned to the project, level of subject matter expertise, workload, stress, co-located teams versus dispersed teams, and consensus-driven decision making processes used. The teams with the most psychological safety were highest performing because they could ideate without fear of judgment, embarrassment, or retaliation (The New York Times: What Google Learned from its Quest to Build the Perfect Team). They were comfortable to be as creative and “out there” as they wanted, which established a platform for innovation.
In summary, belonging is what allows employees to feel like they can be their authentic selves without fear of different treatment or punishment—and it has a major impact on performance and retention. (Forbes: Fostering the Sense of Belonging Promotes Success). Now that we’ve established what and why, let’s look at how organizations can instill belonging.
Accountability for violations of company policy regardless of seniority or performance
Clear and trustworthy mechanisms for reporting violations of company policy
Budgets for celebratory events
Senior leaders set the tone
Embody the organization’s values
Model inclusive leadership (listen to all voices on the team)
Transparent about their values
Seek to connect with employees across the organization
Share personal stories
Managers carry the culture
Praise good work
Provide regular, honest feedback to improve work
Respond to concerns
Publicly credit team contributions
Empower team members to make decisions
Peers drive belonging
Respect commitments outside of work (e.g., caregiving, volunteering, social engagements)
Provide timely and honest feedback on work
Praise good work
Thank team for work
Communicate openly and honestly about working relationships
Each stakeholder has a role to play in creating and sustaining a culture of belonging, and it’s about role modeling inclusivity and core values within each interaction. Within these interactions, it’s key for staff to feel:
Connected to others and included
Able to influence decisions that impact their job
Able to be authentic and valued for that authenticity
Appreciated for sharing thoughts and opinions
Like they are “in the know”
Linkedin surveyed 14,000 individuals about workplace cultures, asking what would make the respondents feel like they belong within their workplace. Top responses include being recognized for accomplishments, opportunities to express opinions, feeling valued for input, comfortable being authentic at work, and experiencing organizational transparency.
Like many things, the concept of belonging falls along a spectrum, ranging from excluded, ambiguous, to a sense of belonging, or anywhere in between. Beyond that, a employee’s level of belonging could change from person to person, department to department, or site to site. It could change when a new leader is hired or an influential colleague leaves the organization. Belonging is fluid, and like culture, in need of constant maintenance. An organization’s core values are a key way to instill the actions behind creating a sense of belonging.
Christian Living Community in Colorado has established belonging as a core value of their organization. As Jill Vitale-Aussem, president and CEO shares, “Belonging is a basic human need; to know that we are honored, included, respected, valued. Not in spite of what makes us different, but because of our own unique identity and the gifts that we bring to this organization.” Watch a quick, three-minute video to learn more about the community’s core value, “We Belong.”
If you are interested in putting action behind your organization’s core values, LeadingAge has created a Checklist to help your organization truly live your core values. An organization’s mission, vision, and values are developed to help leaders and staff navigate their purpose at work. They detail an organization’s values, goals, and strategy so that all staff can work toward the same objective. But core values can’t just sit on a shelf—they need to be living and breathing actions and behaviors that all staff internalize and authentically display. Additionally, Brene Brown’s Dare to Lead resources offer a toolkit to Operationalizing Your Values – Step by Step Process for Teams.
Helping teams feel like they belong is an important part of organizational effectiveness today, as well as an important part of staff’s personal health and wellbeing.
Check out more resources you can use now to help create a culture of belonging, and great Learning Hub opportunities that cover an array of important aspects of building an inclusive work environment.