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4 Ways You Can Improve Belonging At Work

What is belonging?

Belonging, or belongingness, is the feeling of connectedness to a group of people or a community. It is driven by the human emotional need (that many people experience) to fit in and be accepted by a group, to feel part of something bigger than yourself, and to feel happy and comfortable with the relationships you make as part of the group.

It is often associated with feelings of acceptance, support, security, comfort, identity and the belief that you can relax and be authentic with your group.

Why belonging is important

It isn't enough just to be surrounded by other human beings. Seeing people at work every day does not create a sense of belonging. Belonging requires self-identification as part of the group and the positive, authentic interactions that come from this over time.

Studies show that feelings of social isolation and exclusion are actually experienced in the part of the brain that feels physical pain. This may explain why loneliness is felt so significantly, and why a lack of belonging can be a predictor of depression.

At work, belonging is not only good for people, but good for business too. Increased feelings of belonging can lead to a 56% increase in job performance, a 50% drop in turnover risk and a 75% drop in sick days. Add in the 167% increase in their employer promoter score (their willingness to recommend the company to others), and you can see why organisations are now looking to improve employee belonging.

On a personal note, employees (in the same study) who cited high feelings of belonging, received double the raises and 18 times the number of promotions!

How to improve belonging at work

Here are four key strategies to improve belongingness at work:

1. Promote Positive Leadership

As with most aspects of positive organisational psychology, leadership is key to creating feelings of belonging. Leaders need to have a strong sense of the company values, understand what they look like on a day-to-day basis and feel comfortable addressing situations where the values are not being demonstrated, to reinforce the need for fairness, psychological safety and respect from all.

Leaders and managers would benefit from empathic leadership training to show they genuinely value and care for their people, and developing an appreciation of strategies they can use to build psychological safety among their teams. Making the time to develop a secure understanding of how to coach and empower people from historically marginalised groups to make use of their strengths and overcome obstacles will also help create a wider sense of belonging.

2. Reduce Feelings of Exclusion

Strategies such as peer mentoring have been highly successful in reducing feelings of exclusion and can make people more willing to work harder for the benefit of the team. Typically this relationship provides one less experienced employee with a more experienced partner who will act as a positive role model, trusted adviser and empathic supporter. This type of support actually benefits both employees and encourages the development of leadership and management skills. Over time this relationship often develop into a co-learning partnership.

3. Build Strong Teams

With so much of our time at work structured around the power of teams, it is crucial for team members to feel valued, included and respected in order for them to fully engage. Teams that frequently engage in one-upmanship, sarcasm, pranks and micro-aggressions are often dysfunctional, and create a culture of fear, anxiety and distrust which can severely impact productivity and morale.

Instead, work on building a culture of trust, support and psychological safety, where mistakes are seen as learning opportunities, debate and disagreement is encouraged and everyone is invited to contribute their questions, concerns and ideas. As you have probably guessed, this starts with leadership and management!

4. Create a Positive Workplace Culture

This last one could be a whole blog article on its own, so I will be brief and return to this topic soon. Put simply, a positive workplace culture is one that prioritises employee wellbeing, offers support at every level in the organisation, promotes trust, respect, empathy and support through clear policies and procedures (with zero tolerance for bullying, harassment and discrimination), addresses poor leadership and management, and seeks out and acts on regular employee feedback about all aspects of their experience.

Get in touch and book a discovery call to find out how I can help you improve psychological safety at work, create a more positive workplace culture and build positive leadership and management skills. You can also visit my website here.

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