How to Create a Sense of Belonging at Work

Stuart Sinclair - May 18, 2021

Everyone needs to feel accepted, included, heard and be a part of something bigger than themselves. It’s a basic human need as important to us as food or a roof over our heads.

The feeling that we are recognised for our achievements and valued as individuals is vital in all aspects of life and our place of work is no exception. This is where the need to belong is heightened. We compare ourselves to others and rank our value based on how our colleagues and our company see us.

A strong sense of belonging encourages employees to excel in their roles and connect with the company. It is one of the core drivers to improve employee engagement.

A genuine connection not only meets your employees’ basic human need for acceptance and inclusion but also inspires their work and improves business performance.

But how do you nurture and encourage this sense of belonging in your organisation? It’s a particularly pertinent question in the current climate. With so many employees now working remotely and cut off from the social hub of the office, it’s no surprise that there is a feeling of disconnection. According to recent research from Forbes, 20% of remote employees said that they lacked a sense of belonging during the pandemic. This is an issue that urgently needs addressing.

New call-to-action

The link between engagement and belonging

What is employee engagement? It’s certainly strongly linked to involvement and belonging. In fact, the Cambridge Dictionary defines engagement as ‘the fact of being involved in something’, and the OED takes a similar viewpoint.

The state of being involved is as fundamental to an employee as pay, location and benefits. Being able to bond with a team, leader, brand and organisation are vital to a person’s wellbeing as well as affecting their performance at work. Engagement and belonging are directly connected.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines engagement as

‘…the state of being involved in something.’

You might already have recognised that this is something you need to address within your workforce. This inclusive culture is one that all businesses need to adopt. Organisations require a workforce that adds enthusiasm, a sense of personal and emotional investment, and a commitment to going beyond simply achieving their goals for the day. When employee engagement and motivation is high, productivity increases.

Ambitious employees understand that in achieving their job-related goals, they will also gain personal rewards through promotion, commissions or even a new corner office. These are people who see employment as more than just a job and getting the job done.

Employers expect their workers to achieve their work goals not just for themselves, but for the organisation as a whole. But how do you initiate this in your organisation, especially with so many of your employees working remotely and physically out of reach?

Is a sense of belonging is lacking in your business?

Here’s an easy test to work out whether you’re tackling the issue. How often does your business address each of these employee engagement initiatives listed below? A lack of activity in these areas is a leading indicator of employee engagement issues or more specifically the symptom of a potentially disengaged workforce.

1. Shared internal news

Do you schedule regular updates and news flashes? Or maybe you only get in touch when there’s something major to report? It’s important to keep your communications regular and consistent, or employees, especially those working from home, will start to feel a sense of detachment.

2. Recognition

The secret to a good recognition programme is to ensure that praise is given freely, and publicly. When workers see others’ achievements being celebrated, they will feel motivated to put in the extra effort themselves. Public recognition is one of the key employee engagement best practices.

3. Ideas and innovation

If you allow employees to put their own ideas forward, you could be surprised at the results. Not only do your workers have a whole range of different insights to offer, but they’ll also be much more invested in their work if they’ve had some input. An employee engagement app can help manage a workflow of ideas through to implementation.

New call-to-action

4. Employee surveys / feedback

The employee voice is a crucial concept and at the heart of creating a sense of belonging. By giving employees a two-way channel of communication, you’re giving them that all-important sense of being heard. Unless you schedule regular feedback opportunities, workers can quickly feel silenced and disregarded.

5. Team forums

Do you give your remote workers the opportunity to work with their colleagues? Or are they working in isolation? Teams always work best when they are openly cooperating and moving towards a common goal. This sense of isolation has been one of the major barriers to employee engagement prompted by the pandemic.

6. Social groups

In a similar vein, the lack of opportunities to socialise outside of work has had a negative impact on employees working from home. By creating social platforms for employees to meet and chat on an informal basis, you’ll be recreating that ‘water cooler’ effect. Create some social spaces online and you’ll instantly improve employee engagement.

7. Events

How can you bring your remote workers together on an organic level? Scheduling company events is a great way to encourage natural connection and participation. While physical events may not have been possible recently, you can still organise virtual meet-ups for your staff. Regular events, virtual or not, should be top of your priority list for every employee engagement strategy.

8. Future goals and plans 

Far too many organisations forget to share the bigger picture with their employees. They’ll keep them up-to-date with news relevant to their job role, but not the overall strategy and direction of the company. This is a mistake. Unless staff understand their role within the organisation, their work engagement will be minimal.

The importance of shared values and goals

I can remember being at a corporate conference years ago (actually it’s decades now eek!) and being asked to recite the company’s latest mission statement. We were duty-bound to live and breathe the mission of the brand. CEO’s were seeing the importance of employees belonging to a bigger whole all those years ago. They understood the significance of a shared vision to aim towards achieving one goal. It sits at the heart of every employee engagement model produced both then and now.

Although the wording has changed to cover elements like ‘employee engagement’ and ‘brand culture’, the ultimate goal of including everyone and connecting all your people remains the same. Recent changes to the business environment have revolutionised the way we work. These include the move to remote working, reliance on online meetings, and the introduction of employee engagement software and other technologies that help companies connect virtually with their people. The landscape has changed, but the ultimate goal remains the same.

There are two elements to achieving this shared vision:

#1 Employees need the organisation’s full picture 

  • History of how the company was set up, by whom, when
  • Current company position compared to their competitors and global share
  • The company’s future goals; where they want to be and how to get there

#2 Employees need to know where they fit in this picture 

  • Who owns the company, their line manager, communication protocols?
  • Brand guidelines, confidentiality protocols, social voice
  • Expectations of them, their job role and time-frames
  • The company’s future goals, their personal goals and their role in making these happen

Find out how an employee engagement app can play a pivotal role in delivering an employee engagement strategy

How to create a sense of belonging that benefits your business

Employees who have access to good communication channels, who know the company’s expectations of them, and who have clear personal goals; these are the people you want working for your company. These connected and engaged employees are happy in their roles and highly productive, which in turn increases business revenue. If you ever ask yourself, why is employee engagement important? – just take a look at your balance sheet.

Engage your entire workforce in this way and the positive impact on the future of your business proliferates.

People need to know ‘the why’ to what they are doing; giving employees the full picture gives them value. If a company can communicate their brand values, goals and future goals it gives its employees a reason and sight of how their personal activity impacts the company as a whole. When you’re exploring how to engage employees, answering ‘why’ is always the best place to start.

How to create a sense of belonging to a bigger entity, especially when staff are working alone from home? You’ll do this through initiating shared knowledge, ideas and values, and by generating the sense of being part of a community where employees feel safe and valued. When you do this, there is a greater chance your workforce will stay, be loyal to the company, healthy and have a stronger sense of well-being.

What happens if you don’t achieve this sense of belonging?

If your people don’t feel as though they belong, they will have no reason to stay with your company. Ultimately, they will have a feeling of discomfort and will always sense something missing. This could grow into a belief that they are not listened to, recognised, valued or part of the organisation and its community.

A few of the painful consequences of a lack of belonging in an organisation are:

  • Absenteeism
  • Low morale
  • Lack of initiative
  • High staff turnover
  • Health and wellbeing

All of these will directly impact productivity and ultimately the profitability of the business.

A sense of belonging starts at the top

It may end at your company’s bottom line affecting business goals and revenue, but it starts at the top. The management team need to lead the way with regards to building a positive community and culture. Belonging is making employees feel more than just a number on the payroll. Business leaders need to build an environment where employees are able to socialise, communicate and be understood equally. This is especially crucial for remote workers who can feel isolated and detached away from the kinship of the office.

Giving your workforce that all-important sense of belonging means more than ensuring they feel happy and satisfied at work. They need to be valued, listened to and recognised. Your organisation will increase employee engagement by sharing its goals, values and future plans, giving people a broader picture of what the business is seeking to achieve for them.

New call-to-action