By Abam Mambo
Now more than ever, companies seeking to improve employee engagement should lean in on Belonging – the sometimes mentioned but often neglected part of many diversity and inclusion programs.
By lean in, I mean companies who are serious about addressing some of the key challenges in today’s workplace – mental health, fair and equitable practices, distributed workforces, low morale, to name a few – should be having robust conversations, trainings and actionable plans to reshape their workplace into a community in which employees feel a sense of belonging.
This article focuses on why belongingness is crucial to employee engagement, and how employers can effectively leverage belongingness to improve employee engagement and simultaneously increase business revenue.
Why belongingness? In his study on the hierarchy of human needs, Abraham Maslow ranked humans’ need for belongingness to belong to a group or community as the third most important need following our basic physiological and safety needs. That need for belongingness is not limited to our home or other communities outside of work.
Even if it did, the entrance of the workplace into hundreds of millions of homes due to the pandemic has made it difficult for many workers to separate home from work. Now that work sits at our dinner tables and in our bedrooms, our coffee tables, broom closets, kitchens and even our cars, the business case for creating a community of belongingness that permeates the real and virtual workplace is even more urgent.
Compounding this need for the workplace to be a community where employees feel a sense of belonging is research that shows that in a 79-year-life span, most of us will spend upwards of 13 years working.
That is more time than we will spend with our families, friends, our hobbies, traveling, etc. In fact, the only thing we will do more than work is sleep, and the thing we will do the most during our waking hours is work. This being the case, it is incumbent upon employers, our colleagues and ourselves to ensure that the workplace is a place where every employee feels they belong.
This is not just nice to have. Belongingness has significant pay offs for companies and workers. For example, employees with a high sense of belonging at work:
• Demonstrate a 56% increase in performance
• Have a 50% lower risk of attrition
• See a 75% decrease in employee sick days
• Are 167% more likely to recommend the organization to others as a great place to work; and
• Are less likely to sabotage their teams or themselves.
The financial rewards should also be stated. For example, with a 75% decrease in employee sick days, a company of 10,000 people will see over $52 million in savings.
So how can employers reshape the workplace into a community where employees feel a sense of belonging? A few tips:
1. Anchor your diversity and inclusion programs and initiatives and your overall work culture in belongingness as an outcome. My proposed approach to leaders is Diversity + Inclusion = Belonging, where diversity and inclusion are critical cornerstones for an inclusive culture but belonging is the measure for how and whether employees are responsive to those programs. In other words, let belonging be your measurable outcome.
2. Talk about belongingness. Share your aspirations about building a community where employees feel they belonging. Telling them that is a critical first step, a gateway to making it happen. Far too many company policies I have reviewed talk about diversity, inclusion, equity and belonging but then spend the bulk of the policy focused on the other three areas and say precious little about belonging. Put some meat on the bones of your belongingness strategy instead of only waiting to measure it as part of your employee survey.
3. Redefine and redesign your speak up culture. “Speak up” has gained a negative reputation in many companies because of a singular or presumed focus on the reporting of complaints. Reporting of wrongdoings is an important part of protecting the company’s reputation and complying with legal and regulatory requirements is important.
However, part of an employee’s sense of belonging depends on whether the employee feels seen, heard and listened to. So, define “speak up” to include contributing ideas, positively challenging authority, asking questions and even failing forward. This will help provide a degree of psychological safety which is absolutely critical to foster a community of belonging.
4. Be responsive, thorough and transparent within reasonable bounds when employees raise concerns. Many employees do understand they need to maintain confidentiality by not disclosing discipline meted out in a matter they reported. What employees do not appreciate is a black hole where a complaint is raised and there is little to no follow up, and no commentary on whether appropriate action was taken. A lack of responsiveness, and worse, retaliation are both antithetical to a community that provides psychological safety to employees.
5. Walk the talk. If you commit to any of the above, do it by planning out specific steps, executing those steps, measuring success and collecting employee feedback.
For more information on belongingness and how to improve employee engagement by fostering a community where employees feel a sense of belonging, visit www.belongingiq.com or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Abam Mambo is a lawyer with extensive experience in employment law, corporate compliance, diversity and inclusion, workplace and white collar investigations. For more than a dozen years, she has advised C-Suite executives, human resources personnel and senior management in Fortune and Global 500 companies in the pharmaceutical, Tech, consumer and healthcare industries.