Culture of Belonging

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Free breakfast, foosball tables, comped sporting event tickets, fully-stocked lounge areas and weekly massages… these all sound like amazing office perks, right? The competition for talent is high and employers are looking for ways to differentiate themselves, but are office perks really contributing to employee retention? You might be surprised by this, while office perks may initially attract candidates, they are not the driving force keeping your best talent in-house. What’s keeping your employees at your company is much deeper than that.

It’s the feeling of belonging that keeps employees happy at work. Employees want to know exactly what their role is and how it fits into the company’s bottom line. Social psychologist Dr. Abraham Maslow has included belonging as the third most important component in his Hierarchy of Needs for human satisfaction and fulfillment. Belonging is when “…individuals feel that they fit in. On one level they fit because the work is interesting. On another level they feel connected to their co-workers. And ultimately, and ideally, they feel part of the workplace because their work has meaning” (Fostering the Sense of Belonging Promotes Success, Forbes, 2017).  When an employee understands their purpose and feels a part of something bigger than themselves, they are more likely to be engaged and in turn, feel a sense of belonging.

Employee engagement contributes to employee retention and a big factor that contributes to such engagement is this sense of belonging. While all of those “cool” free office perks may attract candidates to your company and make an employee happy temporarily it will not increase their level of engagement, which works on a spectrum rather than as a binary with an on or off switch.

Here are a few strategies to assist in creating a culture of belonging  as a strategy to engage and retain employees:

1. Provide relevant training. so that employees can do their job and do it well. Some managers throw employees to the wolves without offering appropriate training, leaving employees feeling lost, confused and distrustful of their managers.
2. Map out a path for growth. Employees want to see a future in the organization. Offer career development training such as career counseling, formal mentorship programs and cross training to develop new skills. Putting a  value on promoting from within your organization is another way to improve retention. Knowing there is opportunity for advancement  can play into an employees motivation as well.
3. Help employees understand where their work fits into the bigger picture. Meaningful work encourages commitment.
4. Acknowledge hard work. Encourage employees when a job is being done well and provide constructive feedback for improvements. Let them know their work matters and give employees a sense of control over their work pace and flow, allowing room to build trust.
5. Make a shift towards D&I (diversity and inclusion). Create an inclusive workforce and be sensitive with diverse employees so as not to perpetuate what has been termed “workplace covering”. Employees who feel accepted within the workplace regardless of their appearance, sexual orientation, gender expression, faith, etc. are more likely to feel a sense of belonging.
6. Check in with employees. 39% of respondents from the E&Y study reported that when managers or colleagues check in with them about how they are doing both personally and professionally, they feel the greatest sense of belonging at work. It was reported that it takes priority over actions such as public recognition, being invited to out-of-office events, being asked to join a meeting with senior leaders, and being included on emails with senior leaders.Checking in is inexpensive, easy and can be implemented immediately.

A  “Belonging Barometer” study of over 1,000 employees done by Ernst and Young revealed that a sense of belonging in the workplace is both sought out and expected. More than half of  E&Y study respondents report feeling a sense of belonging at work when they feel trusted and respected. About a third of respondents feel they belong most at work when they have the ability to speak freely and voice their opinion, and one third feel they belong most at work when their unique contributions are valued.

Investing time, money and effort into fostering a culture of belonging within the workplace may be a business strategy worth considering as a way to improve employee engagement and retention.  Focusing on creating such a workplace environment or culture will positively impact productivity and increase overall company success.

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