This familiar word has taken on an expanded meaning, especially in the workplace. It is usually tethered to diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives designed to create equal opportunities and representation.
After researching the best possible definition of what “belonging at work” means, one thing became clear: belonging is a feeling. It is the feeling of being accepted, included, and worthy of that inclusion. It is more than having a seat at the table; it is the feeling that everyone wants you at the table and is interested in what you can contribute to the organization.
So, how can you ensure your employees feel like they belong? It all comes down to communication, commendation, and collaboration.
Communication involves more than what we say; it encompasses what we choose to omit, what we focus on in conversation, and how we speak of others. Whether intentional or not, every email, phone call, or face-to-face interaction builds upon the last and shapes how each employee views their place in the company.
Having weekly (or bi-weekly) one-on-one meetings with each of your direct reports is crucial to building and maintaining strong relationships with your employees. Setting aside undistracted, focused time with an employee tells them that you value their contributions, notice, and appreciate their hard work, and you want them to remain a member of the team.
Additionally, team meetings are a wonderful opportunity to promote transparency about company-wide changes, even if those changes are evolving. If changes are met with secrecy, and vital details are omitted, employees might assume they no longer belong with the company. The more open and honest you can be as a leader, the more you will earn the trust of your employees and reassure them they are right where they need to be.
As a manager, it is important to coach and develop your employees, which includes offering feedback on areas that require improvement.
Unfortunately, there is a tendency to focus on weaknesses and mistakes and ignore or marginally acknowledge a person’s strengths. Remember that communication includes what we focus on in conversations.
- What message are you sending if your feedback is narrowly focused on areas of improvement?
- Do your employees feel intimidated to come into your office or return your phone calls?
This might indicate a need to increase the amount of positive feedback or recognition you provide. We recommend the 5:1 ratio- that is, recognize and commend five things they do well for every one thing that needs to be corrected. If you’re focused on their strengths, they’ll focus on their strengths, and their engagement and output will increase. Your consistent, genuine commendation will fuel their desire to improve and make them receptive to needed correction.
For this last step, I want you to think about everyone at your company (across all departments). Who at your company naturally creates a sense of belonging and demonstrates your core values every day? Who especially cares about your company culture? Imagine if just a handful of people who fit those criteria got together to collaborate on improving engagement within your organization intentionally. We call this group a “culture committee.”
At our company, our culture committee is the backbone of employee engagement, and they excel at making every member of the team feel like they belong on this team. Culture is the result of the combined efforts of the entire group, and a culture committee ensures that no one person is doing all the heavy lifting. Our team of culture coaches is happy to provide more information on how a culture committee is structured and organized.
Creating a sense of belonging requires intentional effort.
You are likely already following some of the suggestions referenced in this article. Keep communicating with your employees individually and as a group as transparently as possible. Commend them generously and focus on their strengths. Collaborate with others, perhaps creating a culture committee, so your cultural efforts are sustainable and inclusive.
The effort exerted here can be the difference between your employees working for your company vs. feeling they are part of the company.