A Culture of Belonging

A Culture of Belonging
By Shannon Lee
Executive Director, Leadership Columbus

Creating a sense of belonging in the workplace is essential to having a productive, engaged workforce. A workplace that fosters a sense of belonging allows employees to feel respected and valued, encourages collaboration, and ultimately leads to higher levels of job satisfaction. In this blog post, we’ll discuss some effective strategies for creating a sense of belonging at work, so that everyone can feel connected and included in the workplace.

The Importance of Creating a Sense of Belonging

“Today I had the strangest
Feeling that I belong”
-Coldplay, Humankind

These lyrics shook me when I first heard them because why would a feeling of belonging be strange? I have a sense that belonging seems elusive for most of us but not for the same reasons. Some reasons are universal to being human, like the feeling of being ‘not enough’, ‘on the outside’, or ‘I’m weird’ can be very typical. On some level, we all doubt ourselves and wrestle with belonging. Creating a sense of belonging in the workplace isn’t necessarily about addressing this universal experience, although more belonging in the workplace may help.

The kind of belonging I’m referring to is the belonging created by celebrating differences, operating in respect, and balancing the taking and giving of space to others. I believe workplaces are responsible for creating a culture of belonging for their team members. This is, of course, challenging and nuanced, but it is attainable.

This Gallup article says that in a culture of belonging:

  • Everyone appreciates you for what you bring to the group.
  • There is a genuine desire for meaningful relationships.
  • There is an appreciation for the differences between people.

It’s not enough to be liked, the article says. What we’re after is ensuring people know they are needed, and they want to see that their efforts are associated with accomplishing goals. Furthermore, they want to do so in an environment that recognizes, celebrates, and encourages the differences and perspectives needed to achieve said goals. This could also be defined as team equity.

Ways to Create a Sense of Belonging

According to Gallup, there are three key factors to creating a culture of belonging:

  • People knowing their opinion counts
  • The opportunity to build meaningful workplace relationships
  • Working in a place that is improving their cultural competence

Knowing that my opinion counts

Showing people their opinion counts doesn’t mean you have to implement every idea. Creating space where opinions and input are made and considered thoughtfully is the key. And, when you are unable to implement an idea, explaining the rationale goes a long way to ensuring folks still feel included. 

Having the opportunity to build meaningful workplace relationships

The key here is opportunity. Folks aren’t required to have meaningful relationships at work, however, Gallup’s research shows a correlation between satisfaction at work and healthy, meaningful workplace relationships. So while some folks may opt out of forming those relationships at work, the workplace itself can do their part by fostering an environment that encourages positive workplace relationships. 

But the more important benefit of having workplace friends is that when we get to know people, we understand them better, we tend to like them more. And when we like people, we are less likely to sit silently by and allow microaggressions on our watch and more likely to celebrate their accomplishments. Meaningful relationships at work can improve our overall culture. 

Working in a place that is improving their cultural competence

Your workplace doesn’t have to be culturally perfect, but is that workplace moving in the direction of cultural competence? Are those changes communicated effectively? Don’t make the mistake of failing to pursue cultural competence simply because you don’t understand, are afraid, or don’t know how. Find folks with more cultural responsiveness than you to lead the way and remain flexible to their recommendations.

The Impact of Creating a Sense of Belonging

Creating a sense of belonging is good for everyone – the team members, the product, and the entire workplace. Here’s what Gallup says.

Knowing that my opinion counts

The above-referenced Gallup article says, “If managers moved the number of employees who feel their opinions count to six in 10, it could reduce turnover by as much as 27%, safety incidents by 40%, and increase productivity by 12%.” Wow! This one small move can create a lot of change.

Having the opportunity to build meaningful workplace relationships

The data says that “Moving this ratio to six in 10, could reduce safety incidents by 36%, and increase customer engagement by 7%, and profits by 12%.”

Working in a place that is improving their cultural competence

This isn’t just about celebrating differences but managing people individually without losing sight of the collective. The article closes by saying, “Humans come to life when they feel needed, wanted, valued and appreciated by the people around them.”

The bottom line is that creating a sense of belonging in the workplace can have major positive impacts, both on individuals and the business as a whole. It can lead to more productive work, better customer engagement, improved safety and profitability, and an overall more positive work experience. When everyone feels like they belong, everyone wins.

A Culture of Belonging

Creating a sense of belonging in the workplace starts with creating a culture of belonging. Everyone appreciates each other for what they bring to the group, desires meaningful relationships, and celebrates the differences amongst them. 

Individualized and deserved appreciation makes people feel like their unique talent, experience, and personality matter and belong. As employee belonging has moved front and center in the war to attract and retain top talent, creating a workplace that fosters genuine relationships is increasingly important. Building relationships and trust help establish understanding between colleagues while creating an atmosphere of openness and acceptance and promotes a feeling of security and comfort in the workplace. 

By implementing these strategies, employers can create an environment of inclusivity and belonging that will ultimately result in higher job satisfaction, better communication, and improved employee performance. When employees feel valued, respected, and appreciated for who they are and what they bring to the table; it creates a workplace where everyone feels accepted and part of the team.