How to Foster a Sense of Belonging at Work

CoachHub · 26 September 2022 · 5 min read

A sense of belonging is experienced when an individual feels deeply accepted in their environment. To feel you truly belong means you have no doubt or insecurity about your position within a group. You trust you are valued as you are, you know you will be included and you feel secure in your community.

Powerful movements in our society such as Black Lives Matter, transgender rights, and gender pay equality have drastically reshaped today’s workplace culture. Efforts to improve diversity, inclusion and belonging are now workplace norms. Employers, now more than ever, are responsible for cultivating a healthy and inclusive workplace culture.

Behind all the demands for diverse teams, more flexible working conditions and better well-being benefits is a longing for the workplace to be a source of joy for people and no longer a source of stress. At the heart of a joyful workplace is a sense of belonging.

With a feeling of belonging comes a feeling of being a part of a community. If a company can meet one of the most integral needs of a person, to feel like a valued member of a community, their employees will be truly fulfilled. Once a sense of community is established where employees feel included, accepted, and valued, the workplace enriches their lifestyle rather than depletes and drains them. It is then you will have a loyal, engaged and well-performing workforce.

The benefits of having a sense of belonging at work

Placing more focus on cultivating a sense of belonging at the workplace is no longer a trend to consider but more of a duty of a modern employer. Thankfully, this culture is not hard to create and holds huge potential for any business. With 40% of working adults experiencing feelings of isolation in the workplace, cultivating a sense of belonging within your company is an effective strategy for gaining a competitive edge. 

Improves performance

Believing you belong at work is energizing and encouraging. An employee who feels they belong is more productive, motivated and engaged. They have a strong sense of contributing to something larger than themselves, a major factor in motivation. A workplace then becomes more than a place of work. It becomes a place to make a meaningful and valued contribution.

Reduces stress

Employees who experience a sense of belonging will be less overwhelmed with their workload and have a more positive relationship with their professional life. Relationships and community provide depth to the workplace as well as becoming an outlet for employees to release stress, make connections and build friendships. When there is more to your work-life than deadlines, endless tasks and demanding projects employees are naturally happier and less likely to burn out.

Reduces employee turnover

Belonging to a community is one of the strongest human desires. When we find a source of belonging in our lives it is almost impossible to walk away from. Employees who believe they are wholly accepted and valued in their team will be less likely to be influenced by offers from other companies. Christine Michel Carter, an author and corporate advisor, has described a sense of belonging as “a dynamic retention tool”. With a sense of belonging and community in the workplace, employee loyalty increases and turnover will inevitably be reduced.

Improves team morale

A sense of belonging is at the heart of a well-functioning team. When there is a culture of inclusion and acceptance individual identities begin to fade and with that, team identities become more important. People are more driven by the goals and visions of the team rather than their individual desires. Teamwork and collaboration thrive within a team that feels a sense of belonging.

It has never been more important to create a sense of belonging at work. With the rise of remote working employees are more at risk of detaching from their teams and feeling isolated from the workplace. Many harmful behaviors such as discrimination and exclusion are harder for management to notice and subtle changes in morale can slowly harm team culture. Small efforts to cultivate a sense of belonging can have a huge impact on the morale of remote teams and the wider company culture.

sense of belonging

How to implement a diversity and inclusion program

A strong culture of diversity and inclusion within the workplace is vital for all employees to feel a sense of belonging. HR and leadership can achieve this through various initiatives driven by a comprehensive diversity and inclusion program. The SHRM offers a step-by-step guide to setting up a diversity and inclusion program in the workplace which can be summarized as follows:

Step 1: Compile Data – What does your workforce look like and what are the inequalities based on the demographics?

Step 2: Identify Needs and/or Areas of Concern – What are the most underrepresented and problematic areas of the business?

Step 3: Address Policies or Practices Affecting DE&I – What policies or practices are barriers to DE&I and need to be eliminated or adjusted?

Step 4: Identify Business Objectives – What specific goals can be set that are related to DE&I as well as being based on the company’s strategic objectives?

Step 5: Procure Buy-in and Support – Which senior-level management can be tasked with being a champion of the inventive and be a visible supporter of the cause?

Step 6: Implement Initiatives – How can we implement changes in policies and practices, staff training, targeted recruiting, and employer-sponsored DE&I awareness events for employees?

Step 7: Communicate the Initiatives – What is our communication plan and how do we ensure it reaches all areas of the organization?

Step 8: Measure and Disseminate Outcomes – How do we measure the results of the DE&I initiatives and what are our metrics of success?

Step 9: Review and Adjust – What are our procedures for a periodic review of DE&I initiatives and goals?

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How to foster a sense of belonging

In the workplace:

  • Encourage collaboration. The more time teams spend together the more opportunities they have to bond and form relationships. With regular collaboration, a team can grow closer and a sense of community will be created. 
  • Establish ERGs. ERGs are a great way for underrepresented groups to experience belonging while feeling supported by the organization. Such groups are also valuable for all employees to find individuals with similar interests and goals. This is a truly effective method of building a sense of belonging with 90% of Fortune 500 companies supporting ERGs.
  • Encourage open communication. 39% of employees said they feel a sense of belonging most at work when they can speak freely and voice their opinions. A culture of transparency and open communication will enable employees to feel their opinion is valued.
  • Trust your employees.56% of respondents feel they belong most at work when they feel trusted and respected. Allowing for more flexibility shows your employees that you trust them to make the right decisions and will feel more comfortable and accepted in the workplace.
  • Zero tolerance for bullying. Management must enforce strict anti-bullying policies with zero tolerance for exclusion, discrimination and microaggressions. It is vital to recognize these behaviors and address them before they become serious.

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Cathy Stapleton
Cathy is an Irish writer based in Berlin, Germany who is passionate about using words to inspire growth. As a certified mindfulness facilitator and performance coach, Cathy aims to create work that helps people connect with themselves and heighten their awareness. When she is not writing she is usually running in nature, meditating or contemplating an existential crisis.

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