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How to: Foster Belonging in the Workplace


What We All Can Do To Foster A Sense of Belonging in the Workplace


When it comes to belonging in the workplace, we have to move beyond surface-level “fixes” and recognize that adding new wording to our websites and handbooks simply isn’t enough. While the idea of new employee engagement programs are often met with eye rolls and sighs of frustration, this needn’t be the case when it comes to enhancing belonging.

There’s good news. Benchmark research around belonging and its importance exist in the DEI space waiting for us to embrace it. The recommendations are not difficult to conceptualize or implement, they support everyone and create healthier organizations.

It all boils down to a few simple things most of us want:


  • to be recognized for our unique contributions,

  • feel a connection to those around us,

  • experience support in our day-to-day work and our longer-term professional development, and

  • to feel pride in what we do.


If you missed my post describing why belonging in the workplace is necessary, especially now, I invite you to give it a read.


What You Can Do to Foster a Sense of Belonging.

. . . it can feel like we're opening a (very personal) can of worms.

Belonging represents our humanness. When we talk about belonging in the workplace we are talking about the feelings and emotions and interactions of our workforce, and it can feel like we’re opening a (very personal) can of worms.


Let’s face it, as leaders it's easier to keep a focus strictly on the work with everyone staying in their own lane. Until recently, a sense of belonging seemed to have little or no impact on the bottom line – or at least it was easy enough to ignore. However, the tides have shifted as employees’ unmet demands for increased connection, flexibility and work-life balance have driven The Great Reshuffle.


Changing organization culture can be tough, and supporting a sense of belonging needs to be pervasive. We need to move beyond incorporating words on our recruitment materials that sound welcoming. We need to match our words with thought leadership, action and accountability at every level of the organization.


So, what can you do?


First, normalize belonging. It’s okay to acknowledge that we all need to feel a sense of belonging, especially now. As I mentioned in my previous post, belonging positively impacts motivation, enjoyment, and collaboration among workers. In turn, innovation, resilience, and productivity rise. Workplace satisfaction increases, as does the retention of top talent. It’s an upward spiral.


Creating belonging could be easier than you think and it’s possible in both virtual and physical workspaces. Here are some simple actions to take at each level of the organization to enhance belonging.



Senior Leaders: Demonstrate the Importance of Belonging as a Core Value


Lead by example. As a senior leader, you are an influencer. The smallest gestures and comments take on far more meaning than you might have intended. When you lead with humanity, you invite your team and your organization to do the same. Here are a few action steps you can take to foster belonging


  • Acknowledge how important forming connections and a sense of belonging is to everyone right now.

  • Encourage all voices to be heard and considered.

  • Model inclusive leadership.

  • Do not tolerate exclusion, disrespect, and belittling behaviors on your leadership team.

  • Be transparent about your personal values. Draw connections to corporate values, mission, belonging and personal values.

  • Keep at the forefront of your efforts the importance of people feeling seen and heard and respected.


Managers: Create a Culture of Belonging

Confidence promotes innovation and success. Strive to connect your team with responsibilities that line up with their strengths and, where possible, their professional interests. When challenges arise, offer support and celebrate their successes, acknowledging a job well done. Here are a few action steps to help:


  • Create cycles of open recognition of unique contributions.

  • Provide and regularly seek out feedback.

  • Empower team members to make decisions and hold post-mortems to learn from the outcomes.

  • Get to know and openly appreciate the people throughout your organization.

  • Do not tolerate exclusion, disrespect, or belittling behaviors in your organization.


Peers: Make Belonging in Workgroups Happen

We all play a leadership role in our organization. As a peer or colleague develop your personal and authentic engagement strategy. Whether working from home or the office strive to make connections beyond your immediate circle. Here are some actionable steps you can take:


  • Make new and enhance existing connections with those you work with and those outside of your immediate circle.

  • Provide and request timely, respectful, and honest feedback with peers and colleagues

  • Find common ground and engage in respectful exchanges where working relationships could be better

  • Be tolerant, inclusive, and respectful, and elevate those around you through recognition and appreciation

  • Keep in mind the importance of being seen, heard, known and appreciated.


Final Thoughts on Belonging In The Workplace.

At all levels, it’s important to connect not only those in the office but your entire team – including those who work remotely. Don’t rely on hallway conversations. Make time to intentionally connect with others regardless of their work mode. This will help offset any sense of favoritism, which undermines workplace wellness, engagement, and belonging.

I’ve offered some simple solutions, but there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to establishing a stronger sense of belonging in the workplace – or within any group. It also doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and care for changes to take root and grow.

Belonging starts with being open to hearing, acknowledging, and appreciating others. It takes time and intentional effort to understand what your employees want and need to feel respected, valued, and included. Don’t be afraid to dig deep in order to reveal what cultural changes need to happen for your employees to be able to feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to work.

Changes that enhance belonging might be the difference between a thriving and languishing workforce.

The internal work culture is most often felt rather than seen. Shifts will be subtle but the outcome could be remarkable. Changes that enhance belonging might be the difference between a thriving and a languishing workforce. If retention is important to you, it’s important to focus on belonging.

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