Diversity and Inclusion, the two-fold strategy to manage the workforce, has long been discussed and implemented by most organisations. However, the newest addition to the block is a ‘sense of belongingness’ that, by far, most successfully completes the equation.
‘Belongingness’ is to feel accepted, be able to be one’s true self and feel secure while doing so.
In the context of workplaces, it simply means having lasting relationships, which could be extended to the organisation, its values and the work itself.
In a survey conducted by Culture Amp and Paradigm, it was found that there was a single metric which was universally tied to a person’s workplace commitment, motivation, pride and recommendation or, in short, a sense of belongingness. It has also been proved that employees who felt a sense of belongingness with the organisation were also the ones who felt fully engaged at work. Employee engagement can be broadly measured by factors, such as commitment to the organisation, motivation level towards the work and a general feeling about it, recommendation of the employer and pride in associating with the brand. People who scored high on these parameters felt as if they belonged to the organisation. As far as diversity and inclusion go, organisations have started to realise that just bringing in diverse talents to the table would not be enough to reflect truly on their inclusion policies. They would have to make the employees feel as if they truly belonged, if at all the companies aimed at reaping the benefits of a diverse workplace.
Let us understand the concept of employee belongingness and how important it is as a metric to be included in the company’s diversity and inclusion initiatives.
Why ‘A Sense of Belongingness’ Should be a Part of Your Diversity & Inclusive Initiatives?
While charting out diversity and inclusion policies, organisations often fail to discuss on one core need of the employees and that is the need to belong. Belongingness is an essential human need, which extends to the workplace as well. For instance, it is possible for people to excuse out of an event or a public place if they feel uncomfortable or as if they do not belong. However, the employees need to show up at work and perform to the best of their abilities, even if they do not feel up to the task, in order to be considered a meaningful part of the organisation. For companies, it is imperative to ensure that the diverse employees they include in the organisation find the work environment not only comfortable but also the one where they feel at their productive best.
Here’s why this feeling of the need to belong has found an important place amongst employees and why companies should be paying attention:
It is a no-brainer that diverse viewpoints contribute towards better decision making. Imagine recruiting an excellent bunch of employees, who come from diverse backgrounds and work experiences, and giving them an opportunity to be a part of the discussion where important matters are being discussed and opinions are being sought. Why would they still feel hesitant in speaking up? Because even though they were hired within the organisation, there was hardly any investment done to help them acclimatize and feel like they belonged. Creating a psychologically safe environment, where the employees do not feel hushed by unwanted voices within their heads, is very important, both for the employee and the employer.
Trying to Fit-in:
When employees constantly have their guards on in anticipation of being the perfect fit for the organisation and the rest of the team, they are bound to feel disconnected. According to a study from Catalyst in 2018, 40% of the men and 42% of the women felt tensed about racial discrimination at work, and 40% of the women were on guard in anticipation of gender bias. Other reasons contributing to the feeling of being disconnected among the employees included physical appearance, physical ability, age, spiritual beliefs, etc. This feeling of trying to fit-in exhausts employees mentally , resulting in reduced productivity and slow career advancement. By creating a culture of belongingness, employers can ensure that employees do not get caught up in this vicious cycle and are able to display their true identities without any apprehensions.
Hiring and Retention:
This is more relevant to employers than to employees. The employees who feel that they belong to an organisation prefer working there for long, leading to reduced turnover and higher retention rate. Further, the employees are more likely to feel a sense of pride, which they shall show within their community, thereby helping in attracting more diverse talent. A recent study by LinkedIn revealed that 47% of the employees value working at a company where they feel they can be themselves. A culture of belongingness will go a long way in helping the employees feel more at home, both emotionally and professionally.
Harbouring diversity at a workplace is no longer a dream for companies. It can be safely said that we have finally reached a stage where companies are attracting resumes from a diverse set of population, which could range from a variety of cultures to age-groups, and genders. This growing diversity is apparently the breeding ground for more innovation, fresh perspectives and some amazing outcomes. However, in order to provide a conducive environment for this trend to grow, fostering a sense of belongingness is a must, especially amongst the underrepresented groups in an organisation, who have more chances of feeling like they do not belong. Not being able to provide that environment will only lead to them packing bags and leaving for the next place.
How Companies Can Ensure That Employees Feel a Sense of Belonging?
In order to harbour an atmosphere of belonging within a workplace, it is important to first create an atmosphere that is based on openness and is devoid of any interpersonal barriers. It might be possible for the employees to work together for a long time without knowing each other on a level slightly deeper than mere professionalism. For a person to feel belonged in an organisation, the employers must encourage discussions where employees can speak openly about their ambitions, things which motivate them and their likes or dislikes. It can also involve getting an understanding of the person’s life outside work, like more about his/her family, hobbies etc. This goes a long way in doing away with any barriers that might exist as well and set the stage for belongingness. However, this is something which should happen instinctively and not out of force. It is not possible for leaders or employers to insist on their employees to share such information. Employers, however, definitely have the choice to set a positive example by being more open. For example, they could encourage employees to share insights on improving a certain area of business. They could also indulge in effective storytelling, which, in turn, will encourage employees to better understand a company’s objectives and vision.
Establish a Shared Vision:
An employee just doesn’t feel the need to belong to an organisation, but they feel the need to belong to the overall vision of the organisation that they work for. They want to feel like a valued member of their respective teams, who are making positive contributions to the vision of the company. In many regards, this point has takeaways from the previous point, which mentions adopting storytelling as a way of communication amongst employees. This method of communication helps convey the vision of the company in a better manner as well as in understanding how individuals fit into the vision. As employers, it is also important to regularly review the company’s values and purpose to ensure they are well aligned with the goals and objectives of the company. Have the employees get a deeper understanding of the same, in order for them to feel a sense of belongingness.
Measure and Analyze:
In today’s super tech-savvy and research-backed work environment, it is not possible to make sustainable improvements in the business without measuring performance and analysing what can be improved. The very same principle applies when it comes to measuring belongingness. One way of measuring it is to conduct regular surveys. Collect information about employee engagement at your organisation in order to recognise your strengths as an organisation and also look at areas of improvement. Once this is done, it is possible to dig deeper and survey employees on their views on diversity and inclusion status in the organisation. This will open a lot of avenues and help the employers understand whether people feel belonged or not, what is important to each underrepresented group etc. With the help of this information, employers can launch several diversity and inclusion initiatives which also support a case for belongingness, take suitable actions and measure progress.
Foster Better Social Bonds:
People who work closely with others tend to become favourable towards them, as is also backed by research studies. The proximity and personal interactions in a workplace contributes greatly to creating social bonds. They start to feel close to the people they work with, and take their views seriously, even if they had previously disliked them. As employers, it is possible to bank upon this innate feature of human beings and explore opportunities to create social bonds by looking at different parameters like:
- The structure of the teams;
- The way different groups can be organized to solve specific work-related issues;
- The design of the office, which should provide more instances of social interaction;
- The way remote employees can be brought together from time to time to build and foster social bonds.
Sometimes it is possible to feel a sense of belongingness towards someone other than the peer-group of employees. Some employees may feel more at ease with a mentor-like figure, whom they trust and are more comfortable sharing their views. The mentors are better able to provide them with critical feedback as well as better opportunities to learn, which can help the employee feel belonged. Often people from an underrepresented group and stigmatized group may find themselves feeling close to a mentor in their company, rather than their own peers. Workplaces should help facilitate trusting mentor relationships by having a proper mentorship programme in place. Mentors should also receive proper training on effective ways to deal with and guide such employees in the right direction by indulging in one-on-one meetings and fruitful discussions. Have the mentors share such success stories with the team wherein how these mentorship sessions helped an employee cope positively with the day-to-day travails of work and feel a sense of belongingness.
Focus on Inclusion:
As an organisation, it is imperative to try and become consciously inclusive, otherwise, it might come across as non-inclusive. Unintentionally, companies can hurt the feelings of underrepresented groups and undermine their sense of belongingness. For example, the gender-ratio gap in an organisation can be enough for the members of the underrepresented group to doubt their prospects in terms of opportunities, salary increments, promotions and other benefits extended etc. Therefore, it is important to become intentional as far as inclusion is concerned about being mindful of the initiatives the whole company has to undertake. Few ways of doing so could be inviting initial inputs on a project via one-on-one meetings rather than a group meeting, wherein someone who is already feeling un-belonged might not even bother to speak up. Have these members submit their genuine feedback or advice regarding the project and seriously consider to apply them. Let the members know that you are an open organisation and that all decisions will be made collaboratively by reaching upon a viable conclusion, instead of just randomly deciding overnight about important issues with a few members.
Helping employees feel comfortable with who they are at work can go a long way in helping them feel a sense of belongingness towards the organisation. According to LinkedIn’s ‘Inside the Mind of Today’s Candidate’ report, 50% of the respondents consider it as an important element of belonging. It is not just only self-expression, but also letting employees embrace their individuality at work also leads to greater retention, less attrition and higher customer satisfaction. This is especially true for the millennial workforce of today who wants to work at their own pace, in their individual styles. Not letting the employees do so might make them feel like they have to stifle parts of their personality, and this could be a serious concern for employee engagement as well as belongingness.
A sense of belongingness is an important metric which should be looked into, if a company really wants to focus efforts on diversity and inclusion initiatives.