As we muddle our way through this challenging world, knowing we are not alone can make all the difference. Love it or hate it, social media is part of how we connect now. Rare is the person who will admit it, but probably rarer yet is one who has never done it: checked your “likes.” I think what we are seeking in the like button is the human need to be seen, the need to belong.
To create a culture of belonging at work we must attend to building relationships with individuals, and truly embracing that this matters. The old saying that “culture eats strategy for lunch” has been upgraded to “belonging eats culture AND strategy.” If employees don’t feel accepted and included, they will vote with their feet and search elsewhere.
This means that for leaders, attending to this with your employees and colleagues is about more than being a nice person. The burning platform of the workforce crisis makes it a priority to keep the people you want to keep, and the good news is that you have a direct impact on this.
Data from Harvard Business Review (2019) reveals that workplaces with high belonging see:
- 50% drop in turnover risk
- 75% Reduction in sick days
- 56% rise in job performance
- 167% increase in employees willingness to recommend
Yes, there has been a pandemic since this data was released, and some things have changed. But while the “like” button is a more recent phenomenon, humans have needed each other for survival since the beginning of time, and belonging is only likely to have become more of a factor as people choose where they work.
This is what belonging feels and sounds like:
- I’m supposed to be here.
- I feel safe.
- I am not on the outside looking in.
- When I make efforts to join, I am welcomed.
In RWHC’s recent introductory workshop on “Belonging by Design,” artfully facilitated by Julie Stephenson of Southwest Health in Platteville, WI, we discussed the conditions for “high belonging workplaces.” The first condition on the list was, “to be seen for their unique contributions.” As with the “like” button, employees want their individuality acknowledged and to know that they matter. When you are seen at work, it means you are recognized, rewarded and respected by your colleagues.
The to-do list below originates from, “The Power of Belonging: What It Is and Why it Matters In Today’s Workplace.” Following each recommendation are some simple ways for you to foster belonging:
- Publicly give credit for contributions. At staff meetings or huddles, bring up unique work that employees have done. Invite team members to do the same for each other. Anytime someone credits you for something, make it a habit to note who helped you. Look to other leaders who do this well, and you’ll notice their pattern of employee engagement.
- Respond to concerns. Follow any surveys with dialogue about how you are taking action on any low scores. Do the “loop closure” when an employee responds to your question about where things could be improved by letting them know what you are doing to address the concern, and explaining if it can’t be fixed to help them to understand why.
- Praise their work. Everyone at work is doing something that is praiseworthy. If not, why are they still working for you? If you are not seeing it, look closer. “Like” something they do that is unique to them.
- Thank people. Can you thank someone too much? On the list of things to worry about, this might not rise to the top. Don’t leave work without thanking someone every day.
- Model inclusive leadership. Listen to everyone. Consider the question, “Who might think I am only listening to certain voices and not others?” In meetings, take steps to make sure people know why they are there and what their unique contribution is to the work. Don’t take for granted that people know.
- Respect people’s commitments outside of work. This is about seeing employees as whole humans with real lives and needs beyond their work functions. In any group you work with there are people who need to reach a lawyer during business hours to deal with a divorce; have been asked by their best friend with cancer to drive them to treatment; are calling and calling to find help for a family member with mental health challenges; waiting for call backs to arrange caregiving for a parent who can no longer live alone; the list goes on. True, we are not paying people to do those things, and yet when they can have the flexibility to attend to life’s demands, their work is better for it.
The work of belonging work doesn’t require a budget, but it does need an investment of your time and maybe a mindset shift. In the months ahead we will continue to dig into the many layers of this topic, why it matters, and how you can lead it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
||In Jo Anne's current role as Organizational and Workforce Development Senior Manager at the Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative (RWHC) her aim is to offer to leaders straightforward tools and inspire the courage to use them.
Lead the Way in Five Minutes A Day: Sparking High Performance in Yourself and Your Team, by Jo Anne Preston is currently available for purchase.