I thought that I would answer a few questions I was asked by one of my clients about belonging. This was for an internal project, yet I think that the answers can help more of you, so here we are 😁!
• What does it mean to experience a sense of belonging at work?
Experiencing a sense of belonging in the workplace means that everyone feels seen, wanted, accepted, truly included and valued for who they are and for their genuine contribution to an organisation. And by everyone, I really mean everyone - people who are part of marginalised groups but not only, and that is what makes it a key focus for any company.
Everyone is talking about diversity and inclusion, but I rarely see leaders express what they think it really means to their employees on a daily basis. This is what a focus on belonging provides: an ongoing push to foster a diverse and inclusive environment, where everyone's perspective is valued and aligned to a bigger purpose that ties everyone together. Belonging is anchored in wellbeing and depicts a culture that is focused on people truly mattering to one another.
Like all endeavours, belonging can only be the output of many intentional and progressive actions. Too many, unfortunately, do not feel like they belong in the workplace currently.
• And why does it matter in the workplace?
Having a conversation around belonging really matters because it enables everyone to acknowledge the commonalities that exist between us all as human beings, acknowledging protected characteristics such as race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and other abilities (visible and invisible), etc.
Belonging matters because focussing on commonalities as well as differences really adds richness to all conversations and enables people to actually understand the unique experiences and perspectives of as many individuals as possible.
Belonging, according to many research studies, is ‘how we survive and thrive - it is a key motivator for many - if not all of us. But interestingly, it doesn’t seem to be something that is openly discussed, and especially not in the workplace, which is simply not OK anymore, especially after the events that happened in 2020. I have seen, and still see too many leaders, not acknowledging the impact that big societal shifts/events can have on everyday performance. This shows a lack of empathy, and goes against belonging.
Leaders of organisations need to really find ways to define their belonging strategies and implement belonging initiatives to achieve it for all, especially people from perceived minority groups.
• Can you tell us why people from marginalised groups might not feel this sense of belonging, possibly more than others?
Yes, sure! Greg Walton, a psychologist at Stanford University, highlights that actions taken to minimise threats to a sense of belonging help people from perceived minority groups reduce their stress levels, which leads to an improvement of their physical health, emotional wellbeing and performance. He ran an experiment and found out that reassuring students from Stanford from marginalised groups that their potential struggles to belong in new places, due to acquired stereotypes and systemic inequities, are normal. When this is recognised and discussed, he saw that the students did 'work harder and better, eventually earning higher grades'.
This tells us that people from marginalised groups are more likely to experience stress, and challenges with their mental health because of their perceived differences, which makes it harder for them to be accepted and then valued. This is a serious concern. With the idea of belonging, comes the idea that people can truly be their authentic selves and speak their truths, share their experiences as freely as they want to and contribute new ideas and/or suggestions to widely support the organisation. One important thing to share with you is that belonging is a feeling that comes after a company truly focuses on diversity (getting a mixed pool of individuals together) and inclusion (getting this diverse pool of individuals to work together and achieve common goals).
At the moment, too many workplaces are not diverse enough to start with. Too many teams have people, who look, speak or even think in the same-like manner, which is not conducive to creativity, innovation, positive challenges and disruption enough – but more importantly to relevance to the end consumers or clients.
• When an organisation is made up of colleagues from diverse backgrounds who all feel like they belong, what effect could this have on an organisation overall?
The effect is actually major: everybody wins, the organisation wins and becomes the most innovative and competitive it can be. The impact on the bottom line and productivity is just phenomenal.
In a 2019 Harvard Business Review article, it was referenced that ‘If workers feel like they belong, companies reap substantial bottom-line benefits. High belonging was linked to a whopping 56% increase in job performance, a 50% drop in turnover risk, and a 75% reduction in sick days'.
• What are some things we can all do to create a more belonging environment in the workplace?
There is a long list to be honest.
Each intentional action/initiative needs to be considered and take into account the workplace culture - whether it is to be maintained or improved. There are no blanket answers or shortcuts, I am afraid. This is where I go into consultant mode and ask questions first and provide recommendations later.
Some questions are:
What are the values of the company? Do we know if these values largely match the values of current employees - however diverse they are?
Do the leaders of the company really understand the meaning and differences between the concepts of diversity, inclusion and belonging?
How is the workplace culture currently defined? How do we want it to evolve/improve?
What do we do currently to motivate employees daily, every month, every quarter etc - financial motivation and more?
How much focus is placed on employees’ wellbeing (mental, physical and emotional)?
How do we encourage employees to relate better to one another by showcasing empathy, compassion and respect while challenging, to improve the status quo?
Are we providing any safe spaces for employees to connect on more than the everyday functional-related tasks?
And so many more!
Get in touch with me to discuss your particular needs and I will share more questions and, of course, answers with you!