Belongingness is a Powerful Driver of Employee Engagement
In life, there are many things that make us feel like aliens be it in our homes, workplaces, or community. If you ever find yourself in a place where you feel unwanted and unappreciated, that’s when you will understand the true meaning of belongingness.
Social belonging is a fundamental human need. Deep down within us, there is a longing to be loved and accepted. You may think that belongingness has nothing to do with workplaces but not really! The way your employees feel while performing their tasks or how you respond to them fosters a feeling of belonging.
The sense of belonging has everything to do with employee engagement and productivity simply because it’s the humans that get things done. When employees feel accepted, supported, and secure within their teams, they will direct their attention and efforts to the goals of the organisation. Also, they will feel less stressed and intimidated in case they fail to perform as expected.
However, where there is no sense of belonging, employees become disconnected from their jobs, mentally stressed, and antisocial. Qualtrics’ study in 2021 confirmed that belongingness emerged as a powerful driver of employee engagement. When employees feel like they belong, they perceive that the organisation cares about them and they will feel at home. It may look like it is only advantageous to employees, but companies that cultivate workplace belongingness obtain a competitive advantage. They will be able to attract talent from all walks of life and will leverage their ideas and experiences to thrive.
An Ipsos survey on workplace belongingness found that over 87% of all employed Americans stress that a sense of belonging at work boosts productivity. It is because employees are able to concentrate on their jobs or think creatively to come up with better ideas and solutions.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs also shows that belonging is a human necessity. In fact, it is a motivation theory that can help leaders and managers understand the needs of their employees. Among the human needs according to Maslow are psychological needs, safety needs, love, and belongingness. These are the needs managers must understand to improve the workplace environment.
Diversity & Inclusion Vs Belongingness
We can’t talk about belongingness without realising how workplaces have diversified in many ways. Due to globalisation, we realise that many workplaces are full of expats or remote workers. Diversity and inclusion are two different concepts that when understood, can help create safer work environments for employees which increases their engagement.
Diversity & Belongingness - A diverse workforce isn’t limited to employing different genders or races in an organisation. It also includes employees of different cultures, beliefs, or ethos, largely categorised as demographics. When you understand how diverse your workforce is, you will curate policies that cater to inclusion, which promotes belongingness and improves employee engagement.
In order to enforce inclusion, you may put up a disciplinary committee, and fair terms, and conditions for appreciating employees, or terminating them. In case an employee violates the company policies, ensure that the case is handled professionally, i.e presenting it to the disciplinary committee rather than terminating an employee immediately or issuing notices. All rules and regulations should be followed by all employees.
Inclusion & Belongingness - Inclusion on the other hand is an achievement where employees feel equal, respected, or fairly treated. It is also a feeling that despite their differences (ethnicity, gender, colour, or age) they have access to opportunities and resources in an organisation. With equity, the organisation has to help employees achieve targets through many approaches like extending programs to them or enforcing non-discriminating rules. For example, if you allow remote work, let it be possible for all employees whenever the need arises.
Determining the levels of inclusion in your organisation may not be easy. However, simple measures like presenting equal opportunities, celebrating differences, and welcoming all opinions can foster belongingness which enhances employee engagement.
Belongingness in Workplaces
The relationship between belongingness and employee engagement is not difficult to comprehend. Generally, employees who feel valued and appreciated at work are often happier, focused, and willing to give their best. Harvard Business Review shows that 40% of people report that they feel isolated at work. Betterup’s research results also indicate that if workers feel that they belong, there is better job performance, lower employee turnover, and fewer sick leaves among others.
Here is how a feeling of belongingness can impact the engagement of employees.
Belongingness Builds Teamwork
A feeling as though an employee doesn’t fit in can disconnect them from their team members. As hybrid and remote work cultures increase globally, there is a need for collaboration and teamwork. When team members feel isolated, they will feel emotionally detached. As a result, they will take a lot of time to complete a task or coordinate with others.
Instead of pushing for individual efforts, develop teams for employees to work collaboratively. Encourage them to associate with one another whether inside or outside the organisation. Also, recognise and reward group efforts as a way of creating a psychologically safe environment for all employees. Creating such grounds enforces inclusivity which is vital in creating an enjoyable work environment.
Belongingness fosters a feeling that to err is human
Have you come across kids that are driven by fear? These kids tend to battle with low esteem and social anxiety. It also happens in some workplaces. You will find phrases like “he’s gonna eat me alive”, or “am going to be fired”. With a minor mistake, an employee may feel like they’re going to be terminated or demoted. Yet, a sense of belongingness helps employees learn from their mistakes and fosters a sense of job security.
A report published in Scientific American showed that the brain grows and learns from mistakes. It naturally builds paths that lead to success. However, with a lack of belongingness, employees will find it difficult to get back on their feet or work to become better professionally.
Shows that They Matter
Trust me, you wouldn’t work to deliver the best in a place where you’re sure that your efforts make no difference. An article published by Cision confirms that two in three employees stress that a sense of belonging at work means having their opinions or contributions valued by their colleagues and superiors. That means that employees that feel that their contributions aren’t welcome can easily give up and become disengaged.
The term trust may seem small, but it has a big impact on employees. Robert Sampson, a professor of social sciences at Harvard University, stresses that low levels of relational trust are a big barrier to engagement.
Trust in a workplace helps employees feel secure with their jobs, which reduces employee turnover. Also, it empowers them to be creative with the available resources. Trust also helps to build strong employee relationships and high-performing teams. Situations that make employees think that they are less trusted make them withdraw from major roles or tasks.
Belongingness increases Focus Levels
If workers feel like they belong, they will concentrate on their tasks rather than worry what their fellow employees think about them. Precisely, they will work to deliver the best. A lot of employees become disconnected from their organisations because they feel like outcasts. The more one feels discriminated against or segregated, the more they will seek better opportunities elsewhere, hence high turnover. However, when you promote a feeling of belonging more employees will become creative and focused on their jobs.
Belongingness can impact the engagement of employees
A Few Things that make employees feel that they belong
Transparency: Lack of transparency may be the major reason why your employees feel like they don’t belong. The more you communicate or share good and bad information across departments and teams, the more you eliminate the chances of marginalisation. When it comes to other stakeholders like investors, customers, and shareholders, it is essential to be transparent to them too in order to gain and retain their trust. Many customers today prefer brands that value them. So, when it comes to communicating new policies, targets, and expectations, ensure that you let every member of the organisation, investors, and customers know and understand it.
Welcoming their Opinions: Not every opinion matters, but when you take the time to request employee feedback, it shows that you value their opinions. Endorse good ideas and implement those that can make a difference to the organisation and the wellness of the employees. Similarly, give reasons why a given opinion can’t work and what the alternative could be. With this, employees won’t feel left out and they will know that their presence can make a difference.
Involving them in decision making: Giving employees the power to make decisions contributes to career development and business growth. Normally, employees who feel that their ideas are crucial to organisational growth tend to be problem solvers than creators. Likewise, engage them in policy-making to understand how a given policy (in the pipeline) would affect them. With this, you will understand which policy is all-inclusive and one which lowers workplace belongingness.
Eliminating Groupism/Favouritism:It’s inevitable to do away with groupism and favouritism in workplaces, but when you take the initiative, those that felt unwanted will learn that they are valued. This will increase engagement.
Recognising Them:Take time to recognise or reward employees when they outperform others. Also, take note of employees whose performance has steadily increased. This will motivate them to do better.
All in all, the natural need to belong has a huge impact on employee performance and engagement. Employees who feel connected to their organisations are more willing to spend extra time on their jobs and tend to be happier in the workplace. A report cited lack of belongingness as one of the major factors for the 2021 great resignation in the UK, USA, and several other countries. If employers fail to improve workplace belongingness, more employees will leave their jobs in pursuit of those where they feel psychologically safe and connected to what they do.
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Jessica Robinson loves to write interesting and knowledgeable blogs regarding business management, education and life to satiate the curiosity of her lovely readers. Currently, she is serving as a content manager at the ‘Speaking Polymath’. Every piece of content that she writes demonstrates her immense love and passion for her profession.
By ANIISU K VERGHESE. To balance the moral and ethical dilemmas of personal branding in a hyperpolarised world, it is important to improve accessibility and social inclusion, create avenues for media pluralism and building strong governance and deterrence measures.