Employees who feel a sense of belonging are more engaged and loyal, yet minorities are more likely to feel left out, according to new research from the Center for Talent Innovation. With a few changes, organizations can improve feelings of belonging.
When employees feel like they belong, they are more engaged, more loyal to an organization, and stay longer. That’s according to a new Center for Talent Innovation report [PDF], which also found that white men felt the highest sense of belonging, and minority groups, particularly Black women, felt the least sense of belonging.
Because feeling like an outsider can lead to turnover and more unrest in an organization, Julia Taylor Kennedy, CTI executive vice president and co-lead researcher on the project, said it is important for organizations to make this a priority.
“I have worked at many nonprofits, and we are so focused on achieving our mission, we don’t think as hard about what we need to be doing internally to support our colleagues,” Kennedy said.
However, supporting employees is key to belonging. Some signs employees don’t feel they belong include being hesitant to speak up, less open about their lives, and less emboldened to voice concerns.
“You can start with that assumption that there is a problem,” Kennedy said. “There are things you can do at an organizational level to improve belonging.”
The report’s key findings [PDF] suggest that organizations focus on fostering connections through leadership, middle management, and peer interactions. Starting with senior leadership sets the tone.
“Senior leaders can act as role models,” Kennedy said. “Demonstrate how you are aligned with the organization’s values.” Kennedy also recommended leaders touch base with more people on staff, including those they wouldn’t regularly interact with.
“For middle managers, what we see is having open, two-way dialogue with your direct reports, praising their work, seeing room for improvement, and providing regular low-risk improvement helps,” Kennedy said. “Being responsive to employee concerns will really boost belonging.”
She noted that all levels of management should be asking questions, asking for feedback, and really listening. “Not all ideas can be acted on, but it’s important to acknowledge them,” she said.
In addition to management, peer-to-peer connections also help increase belonging. The report said peers should be respectful of each other’s time and commitments, communicate in an honest and timely fashion, and express appreciation for other people’s work.
While the pandemic has changed the way people are working, it has given the researchers a glimpse of how progress on belonging can happen. The research was mostly conducted prior to the pandemic, but after people began working remotely, CTI conducted update surveys.
“We actually saw belonging scores go up a little bit,” Kennedy said. “So, little changes can drive pretty big outcomes in terms of employee engagement.”
Kennedy attributes those improvements to companies being able to pivot to remote quickly and show they care, along with increased connections brought by remote meetings. “[Staffers] were able to see into one another’s homes—literally,” Kennedy said. “They were able to meet their kids and meet their pets. Everyone is going through a crisis. It drives us to be more vulnerable.”
In today’s environment, it’s even more important to maintain connections and focus on improved belonging. “Employers can really galvanize and connect with employees,” Kennedy said. “Focus on driving belonging; on having employees be seen, connected, and productive; and we can come out the other side [of the pandemic] with a fully engaged workforce.”