Building a Culture of Belonging at Work
People are hardwired to seek a sense of belonging; as social beings, it is a fundamental human need. As leaders work to improve their approach to diversity and inclusion, focusing on building a culture of belonging at work may be the key to creating a better workplace. A study by BetterUP found that a high sense of belonging was linked to a 56% increase in job performance, a 50% drop in turnover risk and a 75% reduction in sick days. Unfortunately, An EY Belonging Barometer survey of more than 5,000 workers in Brazil, China, Germany, the U.K. and the U.S. found that 82% of those surveyed have felt lonely at work, and 49% experience more loneliness now than before the COVID-19 pandemic. People who identified as disabled or LGBTQ were most likely to report feeling isolated at work.
What does Belonging at Work Look Like?
Employee belonging is an important part of employee recruiting and retention, but sometimes it can seem like a vague concept. However, workplaces with a great culture of belonging share some common traits:
- Individuals feel appreciated for what they contribute to the group
- There is a desire for meaningful relationships at work
- People are respected and valued for their differences (not despite them)
- Team members feel like their role is important to the team’s success
How Can Leaders Build a Culture of Belonging?
The foundation of any culture of belonging starts with cultural competence. Cultural competence is the ability to understand and respect values, attitudes, and beliefs different from your own. Culturally competent managers develop their awareness of other cultures and intentionally build their ability to communicate effectively and appropriately in intercultural situations. Leaders that want to enhance their cultural competency can work on the following things:
- Demonstrate acceptance of others. When managers practice openness to differences, it encourages employees to do the same. To do so, leaders must allow others to be themselves without judgment or comparison. In a global workplace, it is essential to be flexible and show sensitivity to cultural differences.
- Show humility. No one is perfect, and no one is always right. Leaders can demonstrate humility by admitting there is always more to learn and avoiding assumptions about others.
- Be Curious. Be adventurous and find opportunities to try new things and meet people you may not normally interact with. Building awareness of other perspectives and worldviews will only enhance your ability to build positive relationships with others.
At its core, creating a culture of belonging starts with respect and appreciation of others. People spend a significant part of their lives at work and should be able to feel accepted and included in the workplace. Leaders can help create an environment where employees enjoy working relationships based on respect and acceptance. When managers foster a sense of belonging for people who think differently and come from different backgrounds and experiences, they will see improved engagement, innovation, and overall performance. But more importantly, creating a culture of belonging helps humans reach their full potential— simply because they feel needed, valued and appreciated.