Belonging at Work: Turning Insights into Action
Each of us wants to feel like we belong––including at work. Our minds are wired to form and maintain relationships with our colleagues and co-workers.
Yet, just 1 in 3 U.S. workers feels like they “fit” at work, according to The Belonging Barometer, a new report from Over Zero and the Center for Inclusion and Belonging at the American Immigration Council. Feelings of social isolation in the workplace can negatively impact our physical and mental health, and can also influence performance and productivity.
That’s why a growing number of employers are taking steps to cultivate belonging within their organizations––to attract and retain top talent, and to drive growth and innovation.
THE STATE OF BELONGING
Belonging is a mixed bag in America, which shouldn’t come as a surprise when the U.S. Surgeon General has identified a “loneliness epidemic” in the aftermath of the pandemic and growing political polarization.
The good news is, the percentage of Americans who say they belong at work outnumbers those who feel excluded by more than 2 to 1.
- Yes, but: Fully half of U.S. workers say they don’t feel they belong at work, even if they don’t feel excluded either.
Belonging at work isn’t felt equally, either:
- People who are well-off report much higher workplace belonging than those struggling economically.
- Belonging aligns with age, with only 4% of Gen Z reporting that they belong in the workplace, 27% of Millennials, 28% of Gen X, 38% of Boomers and 61% of the Silent Generation.
- Men and women feel more belonging than nonbinary people, 41% of whom report exclusion at work
- Parents report higher belonging at work than non-parents. 49% of men with kids report belonging, compared to 39% of women with kids.
WHY IT MATTERS
Belonging and mental well-being are closely linked. People reporting the highest levels of exclusion also report higher stress levels, a worse sense of being overwhelmed and more frequent feelings that depression or anxiety were disrupting their daily lives.
Belonging also has a strong effect on how people feel about their jobs. People who feel welcomed, valued and comfortable speaking up at work are not only more likely to recommend their employer—they’re more likely to stay in their job. \
- And: Additional research shows that a strong sense of belonging aligns with higher productivity and innovation, and fewer missed days of work.
HOW TO CULTIVATE BELONGING
One of the first steps to cultivating belonging among your employees is to measure it. You can use the questions and scoring method in the Belonging Barometer to establish a baseline:
Think about your relationship with your coworkers. To what extent do you agree with the following statements?
- I feel emotionally connected to my company or organization.
- My co-workers welcome and include me in activities.
- I feel unable to influence collective decisions at my company or organization.*
- I feel unable to be my whole and authentic self with my coworkers.*
- My co-workers value me and my contributions.
- My relationships with my co-workers are as satisfying as I want them to be.
- I feel like an “insider” who understands how my company works.
- I am comfortable expressing my opinions with my co-workers.
- I feel like I am treated as “less than” other employees at my workplace.*
- When I’m with my co-workers, I feel like I truly belong.
Responses were given on a 1-5 scale (1=Strongly disagree, 2=Disagree, 3=Neither agree nor disagree, 4=Agree, 5=Strongly agree). All items were counterbalanced. Statements with an asterisk (*) represent negatively worded items, a method that enables us to confirm response/data quality—these were reverse-scored in analysis.
With that knowledge, you can be intentional about how you demonstrate your corporate values, communicate with employees and develop policies with belonging in mind.
Our Employer Guide provides a five-step roadmap:
- Identify and live your corporate values. Allow employees to experience your stated values in consistent ways.
- Create a culture of respectful communication. Feeling secure enough to speak freely is a sign of psychological safety and belonging. Invite bold conversations at work, even about non-work topics.
- Listen to your workers and tailor your approach to their needs. Go deeper than annual surveys and your existing demographic data, and enlist employee resource groups (ERGs) and allies to develop programming.
- Integrate belonging into company structures and policies. Belonging begins with hiring and onboarding, and should extend to employees of all seniority levels through mentorship, workstyles that play to employee strengths, and purposeful connection.
- Measure your progress for continual improvement and accountability. Set transparent metrics that incorporate feedback from all employee groups, and make them part of individual performance objectives.