Building a Sense of Belonging

No matter what group we are connected to, each of us wants to feel like we belong — in our family, with our friends, our colleagues at work, or in other groups we associate with.

A sense of belonging is defined as a safe place where you feel accepted and included by others for who you are. You belong to something bigger and better than yourself.

A sense of belonging is a strong human need. Without this need we would live solitary lives and our feelings of being “an outsider” or “different” would not have the value we now feel.  During the pandemic lockdown we saw this need come to the fore.  People were frustrated, or even angry, when they couldn’t get together in person, all because this need wasn’t being met.

We have seen this need for belonging as a catalyst for youth joining gangs or religious groups who can radicalize their beliefs. When asked why they joined, it frequently is because they felt welcome and “like family”.  We also hear from those who attempt suicide that they feel lonely, alone, or they don’t belong.

A Sense of Belonging

In the workplace (or any group you lead), it is important for us, as leaders, to build a strong sense of belonging. It is not something you can just leave to the individuals in the group. It also something that creates a sense of value for each employee.  In fact, research has shown that Gen Z’s have a higher need for appreciation and recognition for the value they bring, along with their uniqueness.  Failing to fill this need, leaves them feeling insecure, uninspired and more likely to look for a new job.

Research by the organization “Great Place to Work” reveals that when employees experience belonging in the workplace they are:

  • 3 times more likely to feel people look forward to coming to work
  • 3 times more likely to say their workplace is fun
  • 9 times more likely to believe people are treated fairly regardless of their race
  • 5 times more likely to want to stay at their company a long time.

On a business side, their research also found that inclusive organizations grow revenue more than three times faster than their less-inclusive rivals. That should be a great incentive in and of itself.

So, how do you build a sense of inclusion and belonging in your workplace?

1)  Treat everyone equally.  This may sound logical and somewhat simple however that is not often the case in many workplaces.  As a leader, when you value each person and what they bring to the organization regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, role in the organization etc. you set yourself up as a role model. It sets the tone to include everyone as they are. It also builds trust, respect and happiness. We are all unique and it is this diversity and inclusiveness that brings the greatest value to each group.

2) Empower employees to take initiative and to bring forward their ideas. Delegation is one great way to empower employees to use the skills they possess as fully as possible.  It demonstrates you have confidence in them. It also frees your time and energy to be able to offer positive feedback, assistance where needed and create a sense of pride. I always say that the team do the work, so their thoughts on making improvements are very valuable and can lead to some amazing savings in time and redundancy.

3)  Create a mentorship program. When employees are partnered together, it builds a connection that leads to a great sense of belonging. Mentorship between employees inspires to use existing skills, or to develop new ones, that will prepare them for career advancement or greater joy in what they do. It also offers an opportunity for employees to share their feelings of isolation or loneliness with a fellow employee so they can find a solution for it.

One great way I use regularly is what I call “Rounds”. I’ve been doing this since my days in food services when my team was located in various locations on campus. I would drop in to see each employee everyday, or at least every two days just to say hello, ask how they are doing (personally and at work), and I engaged in conversation that related to something I learned about them ie family, hobbies, follow-up about their ideas etc.  In the beginning, people were sceptical but this soon became a great way for me to connect, build a sense of belonging and trust, while engaging them. As an introvert this was a huge challenge in the beginning but I knew it was important as a leader, so I just did it!  Now, it’s my norm.

If you are ready to increase the impact of your leadership, build skills in nurturing team members, or explore ways to boost business and worker success at the same time, book a call with Catherine to explore how she can support your efforts.

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