What drives a culture of belonging?

Story Highlights

  • 42% of U.S. employees say a diverse and inclusive organization is important
  • Culturally Competent Managers are Key to Ensuring a Culture of Belonging
  • When employees feel their opinions matter, it has a positive impact on performance

Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace: 2022 Report shows that 71% of American and Canadian workers say now is a good time to find a job. As a result, employee ownership has come to the fore in the war to attract and retain top talent. In fact, 42% of American employees say having a diverse and inclusive employer is very important when considering their next job.

If you’ve ever been relegated to a default team because no one picked you, or even worse, heard groans of disappointment when you joined them, you’ll know the importance of belonging. It is difficult to feel good about yourself, in your situation or to perform well when you feel judged or rejected. On the contrary, to belong means to be respected, welcomed and valued.

In a culture of belonging:

  • Everyone appreciates you for what you bring to the group.
  • There is a genuine desire for meaningful relationships.
  • There is an appreciation of the differences between people.

Like on a sports team, people at work not only want to be liked, they want to feel useful. If the team wins, they want to feel like they played a big part in the success. In the example above, imagine instead that you were chosen for the winning team and told, “We couldn’t have done it without you!” How different would you feel? Individualized and earned appreciation goes a long way in making people believe that their unique talent, experience, and personality matter and belong.

Employee ownership has come to the fore in the war to attract and retain top talent.

While attracting and retaining diverse talent in your organization isn’t as easy as choosing a sports team, creating a sense of belonging is easier than you might think. It boils down to three ideas and a bit of psychology.

1. Opinions that matter

Unique, creative and innovative organizational solutions come from people who share a common goal but have different perspectives on how to achieve it. When people feel comfortable sharing their true thoughts and opinions, they feel like they’re working in a culture and organization that sees and respects them for who they are. They believe they belong.

Unfortunately, only three in 10 American employees agree that their opinion matters.

Why could this be so? Because when they talk, nothing really changes. Their views and ideas do not matter or affect the way business is conducted.

As managers and leaders, we must recognize that we do not have all the answers. We need to adopt a mindset that others can help us continue to grow and make better decisions, leading to improved and successful results. We need to champion employee ideas by actively listening, responding, and explaining why an idea is good and can be implemented (and then shared and celebrated) or why, perhaps, it isn’t.

The results are clear: if managers increase the number of employees who believe their opinions matter to six out of 10, it could reduce turnover by 27%, security incidents by 40% and increase productivity by 12 %.

2. Meaningful Relationships

People feel more comfortable and relaxed with their best friends.

That’s why having a “best friend” and “someone who cares about you as a person” at work is so important for engagement and belonging. Having deep relationships at work means there is a higher level of trust, comfort, and caring. Work becomes a place you want to be because of the people you interact with and connect with. Such an environment fosters a higher level of care for the work you do and for those around you who are affected by it.

For example, if you really care about those you work with, you may be more likely to take the time to correct a dangerous situation, help someone in need, make someone feel valued by acknowledging their accomplishments or simply doing the best job they can to make sure the team wins.

To belong is to be respected, welcomed and valued.

Studies show a strong correlation between having a best friend at work and company performance. It is therefore important that managers give time and create opportunities for their team members to socialize and get to know each other.

Such a culture also helps satisfy a basic evolutionary human need for deep affiliations, as exemplified by our historical tribal roots related to social, security, and survival needs.

Despite the above, only two in 10 employees strongly agree that they have a best friend at work. Raising this ratio to six out of 10 could reduce security incidents by 36% and increase customer engagement by 7% and profits by 12%.

3. Cultural competence

One of the fundamental attributes to sustaining a culture of belonging is ensuring that managers and leaders possess what medical anthropologist Geri-Ann Galanti has called “cultural competence”. While the term was originally linked to patient care for diverse populations, it now has strong roots in the effort to create a sense of belonging in all organizational settings. From this perspective, the concept is focused on enhancing leaders and managers’ awareness and ability to care for others through an appreciation of the differences between people and cultures and the unique opportunities and challenges for both. The concept also requires a high level of personal reflection and self-awareness.

Culturally competent managers recognize and appreciate the differences between the people who report to them and then take an individualized yet collective approach to weaving together a nice blanket of diversity and a sense of belonging to their teams.

They create an environment of “together”. Being culturally competent also helps guard against hiring in your image, a practice that is more comfortable for the less self-aware manager.

As research supports, when organizations foster a sense of belonging among diverse thinkers and people from different backgrounds and experiences, they benefit from improved attraction, retention, engagement, talent innovation and improving individual, team and organizational performance.

Even though more people are working remotely than ever before, the desire to be part of a group never goes away. Humans come to life when they feel needed, wanted, valued, and appreciated by the people around them. While the tools may be digital, the goal of great leaders remains the same: to help teams bond together in service of a greater purpose.

Help each of your employees feel like a key player at work:

Authors)

Louis Efron is a director at Gallup.

James C. Tibbs