Belonging in the Workplace

James Barrett
James Barrett

Table of Contents

Why are airplanes parked outside at airports? Because they don’t belong inside! Corny dad jokes aside, the sense of belonging in the workplace is no laughing matter. Continue reading to learn why it’s important to build a sense of belonging in the workplace, what belonging looks like, and how you can promote it.

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What Is Belonging in the Workplace?

Belonging in the workplace allows employees to feel at ease being themselves. It creates an environment of shared purpose and values. It empowers us to view others in a way that isn’t confined to our own limiting beliefs and experiences.

Why Is It Important to Build a Sense of Belonging in the Workplace?

We’d all probably agree that it’s much easier to be engaged in your work when you feel accepted for who you are. Feelings of belonging in the workplace don’t happen by accident. When companies intentionally create work environments that value diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I), and belonging, they can create a culture that has a direct impact on employee performance and retention.

  • Increased job performance. Studies have shown that when employees feel belonging, there is an increase of 56% in job performance along with a 50% decrease in the risk of turnover. With numbers like this, companies should carefully consider how belonging can fit into their strategy.
  • Greater innovation. Albert Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” When it comes to leading innovative teams, differences in thought welcomed through diversity help lead us to new innovative opportunities. Teams will literally solve more problems when they embrace new ways of thinking.
  • Higher retention. When employees feel like they have the same opportunity to advance as others do, they are more likely to stay. This means feeling like they belong, regardless of age, sex, gender, religion, or ethnicity. This is what creates trust and helps engage employees.

What Does Belonging in the Workplace Look Like?

Creating and promoting a culture of belonging in the workplace isn’t an initiative that HR should handle on its own. Creating company-wide buy-in creates long-lasting results. This can be done through valuing the opinions of others, training leadership, and revamping your meetings.

Example 1: Value Others’ Opinions

It’s much easier to trust members of your team and feel like you belong when you know that others value your opinion. Your company leaders should strive to make sure that all voices on their teams are heard. This includes finding underrepresented groups and supporting them.

Example 2: Train Leaders

Does your company’s leadership understand how to lead diverse workgroups? Leaders need training opportunities to understand how they can be aware of their own biases, which prevent them from managing teams effectively. Ideal results from these kinds of training include avoiding unconscious bias, understanding different points of view, active listening, and increased belonging in the workplace.

Example 3: Revamp Your Meetings

Make sure that employees who work remotely or at different locations receive appropriate invites and have the correct technology in order to participate. If you have workers in different time zones or who work a night shift, try creating different meeting times so everyone feels like they belong. Create an agenda before the meeting starts and distribute it to give employees a chance to prepare to react to the information. If you have employees in different countries, be sure to translate the agenda to their respective languages.

How to Promote Belonging in the Workplace

Belonging in the workplace begins with setting correct expectations. It can be promoted at all phases of the employee life cycle, demonstrated to new hires through a great mentor, and experienced when leadership invites feedback.

Step 1: Set Expectations

How can you promote belonging if you don’t set clear expectations of what it looks like? Helping employees feel a sense of belonging doesn’t just start on their first day of work. It starts at the heart of the company and can be seen in recruiting, onboarding, company culture, and the way managers lead.

Step 2: Pair New Hires with a Mentor

One of the best ways for a new hire to feel a greater sense of belonging at work is through understanding the company culture. Good mentors help new hires learn about company culture and how their jobs support the company’s mission. They help them feel connected to their role and coworkers. When new employees feel like they have the support of a mentor, they can overcome the challenges of adjusting to a new job and become more resilient.

Step 3: Invite Feedback

Do your employees have a safe place to voice their concerns? Create an environment where employees can freely express their thoughts and opinions. One way could be achieved is through the use of town hall meetings. This helps employees stay informed about what’s going on in the business (goals, initiatives, etc.) and can also allow them the opportunity to provide feedback. Another (honoring the introverts) is some form of the suggestion box. Listening to their feedback, and more importantly, taking action on it, helps people feel that their ideas matter and that they belong.

How to Handle a Situation Where an Employee Feels Like They Don’t Belong

It’s not uncommon for employees to feel alone or left out. This can especially be true for employees who work remotely. Is the productivity of a particular employee decreasing? Do they seem to be less engaged? It’s important for leaders to understand what may be causing an employee to feel that they don’t belong and how leaders can help them. Here are three steps to this process.

Step 1: Assess the Situation

It’s important to first understand why a particular employee may feel like they don’t belong in the workplace. Could the reason be due to culture? Are they lacking a certain amount of attention that could be preventing them from being engaged at work? If your employee indicates that they might feel excluded, it’s important to get to the bottom of why they feel this way and acknowledge their feelings. Be willing to accept feedback your employee may have for you and act on it.

Step 2: Check-In With the Employee

Consider checking in with (or encouraging their manager to) this employee weekly, daily, several times per week, or however often you see fit. This can be a much better option as opposed to annual reviews, where feedback is only given once per year. During your check-in, give the employee the chance to speak up and talk about what’s on their mind. See if you can find specific actions to support their belonging.

Step 3: Frequent and Open Communication

Now that you’ve had several check-ins with your employee, don’t stop communicating! Continuing to connect with them is what builds trust. This means more than just communicating about work tasks. It means taking a break sometimes and getting to know them, their interests, and what they do for fun. Remember that this employee who is struggling to feel like they belong is a human being. They have a story. Many HR professionals see uncovering the stories of others as their favorite part of the job.

Questions You’ve Asked Us About Belonging In The Workplace

When fostering a sense of belonging in the workplace is put into action, an increase in both trust and productivity can occur. When we learn to work with others who don’t always think the same way we do, we can come to realize that our differences in the workplace are what make us stronger, more productive, and more innovative. There are no drawbacks to fostering a sense of belonging in the workplace with employees.
A great retention strategy must involve belonging. When employees feel at ease and like they belong during the recruiting process, onboarding process, and every other process that follows, retention is sure to increase.
James Barrett
James Barrett

James has worked in the HR field going on 5+ years and currently serves in the role of HR Manager. His areas of expertise are in managing recruiting, onboarding, HR metrics, performance and engagement, employee relations and development. He has earned a masters degree in HR along with the nationally recognized certification of SHRM-CP.

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