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Here’s how to build a sense of belonging in the workplace

May 11, 2021 - 14 min read
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Why is it important to build a sense of belonging?

How do you build a sense of belonging for yourself?

Why you should create a sense of belonging at work?

Start benefiting from belonging 

A sense of belonging at work can transform your effectiveness, make your job more enjoyable, and create a better environment for everyone. But, creating a sense of belonging can feel tough when it isn’t already built into your company culture.

Even if you don’t currently feel like you’re part of the team, there are plenty of ways you can foster a sense of workplace belonging. 

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In this article, we’ll explore what belonging is, why it matters, and how to develop a sense of belonging in your workplace.

At its core, the definition of a sense of belonging is when a person feels included and accepted for their authentic self. 

Focusing on diversity and inclusion simply isn’t enough to keep team members engaged. Happy employees often need to feel a sense of belonging at work, too. 

Fostering belonging in the workplace means that people of all backgrounds get a seat at the table and feel heard, seen, and recognized for their contributions. 

Having a sense of belonging at work can have far-reaching benefits for employees, and 34% of people feel their greatest sense of belonging at work.

In 2020, belonging became more critical than ever as teams started working remotely. Research shows that belonging became 12% more important for employee happiness during COVID-19

While encouraging belonging is an important facet of company culture, it’s also crucial that we all develop and hone a personal sense of belonging throughout our lives.

belonging has become more important than ever



Why is it important to build a sense of belonging?

When you’re working with a team, the loneliness of feeling like you don’t belong can be overwhelming. 

But, when you feel free to be yourself at work, you can worry less about your relationships with your teammates and focus more on the job at hand. Feeling like part of the team can make you more confident and persistent, ultimately leading to better performance.

Companies that commit to fostering their employees’ feelings of belonging benefit, too. 

Gallup research found that engaged employees are 22% more profitable. Belonging plays a fundamental role in employee engagement, so it pays to foster belonging in your company culture.

Inclusive leaders who foster belonging often have teams who produce great work because they feel supported and appreciated. These employees feel more confident making decisions and speaking their minds when they think they have an ally in the company. It’s no surprise that, according to BetterUp’s latest research, inclusive leaders are 2.5x more likely to have employees who feel like they belong.

Fostering your own sense of belonging at work doesn’t only benefit you. When you belong, you’re more likely to be that ally for someone else. Developing your sense of belonging is part of evolving into a strong leader at work.

employees with a strong sense of belonging report a higher level of job performance

How do you build a sense of belonging for yourself?

Even though many companies prioritize diversity initiatives, many fall short of promoting belonging. 

Inclusion and equity are essential factors that many companies miss when developing belonging programs. In some cases, companies may not even realize how vital belonging is.

If you’re feeling lonely and like you don’t belong at work, you don’t have to wait to start feeling like a valued member of the team. There are plenty of ways you can bolster your own sense of belonging.

Here are 6 tips to help you feel more included in the office.

belonging Venn diagram

  1. Recognize your own beliefs

Belonging at work feels tricky when it seems like you’re the odd one out. But, is this the first time you’ve felt this way, or is that a familiar feeling? 

You may have developed beliefs about yourself that cause you to feel like an outsider. Evaluating your thoughts can help you recognize your own self-perceptions. Not sure where to start? Here are a few books on personal growth to help get you started. 

  1. Do the inner work

Prioritizing the inner work can reveal deep-seated beliefs that cause you to feel separate from others. Inner work also helps you create new beliefs that can support a feeling of belonging.

Spending time on inner work, both at work and at home, can help you recognize what triggers the feeling that you don’t belong.

  1. Be open-minded

Acceptance of others and open-mindedness can help you feel included, even if you currently feel ostracized.

If you feel like your ideas are always overlooked, reexamine how the conversation looks from other people’s perspectives. 

Ask yourself: were you accepting and open-minded? It may be easier to express your ideas when you see things from someone else’s point of view. 

  1. Accept yourself

Often, our self-criticism creates a chasm between ourselves and our team. Feeling inadequate can lead to self-isolation, which makes teamwork much more difficult.

Unconditional acceptance of yourself can make it easier to integrate into the group.

  1. Look at how you belong everywhere

If we feel left out at work, we might feel like an outsider in other areas of our lives, too. 

Start trying to foster belonging in other places, like a spiritual community, neighborhood, or your own family. Feeling welcome and accepted in one social group makes you much more open to belonging in one another.

  1. Focus on trying to belong

When we feel isolated, we may overlook opportunities to create a sense of community. Instead, make a conscious effort to try belonging while being your authentic self.

Reaching out to a coworker or attending a team event could help you feel more welcome and included. You can even encourage your team to have a bonding event.

Why you should create a sense of belonging at work?

Creating an environment of belonging at work improves the employee experience and a company’s effectiveness overall. 

Belonging is an essential component of employee engagement. When a person feels left out, they often distance themselves from their team and their work. In fact, according to BetterUp research, even a single incident where someone feels excluded can lead to an instant 25% decline in that person’s performance.

Bringing belonging to the forefront of your culture can transform your organization. Here are 4 of the benefits companies and employees see when they prioritize belonging.

  1. Belonging fosters team collaboration

When employees feel excluded, they’re less engaged in working with their team, even if it means their own performance suffers. 

Meanwhile, when employees feel like they belong, they’re much more likely to share ideas and work together toward a common goal. Workplace belonging can help teams feel more inspired, understood, and trusted.

  1. Allies prevent exclusion

It always helps to feel like there’s someone on your side. 

When employees feel they have allies committed to their inclusion, they’re less likely to feel excluded from projects. Even one ally that shows fair and inclusive leadership can foster a sense of belonging in a team.

addition of an ally

  1. Businesses benefit from belonging

Belonging can have a substantial financial impact on an organization, too. 

BetterUp research shows that fostering belonging can lead to a 50% lower risk of turnover. Plus, employees who feel they belong take 75% fewer sick days. 

This means more long-term team members come to work and are more productive. Naturally, a more productive workforce can have a major impact on a company’s revenue.

Start benefiting from belonging

Belonging is an essential element of employee engagement. Creating a sense of belonging at work can make a huge difference in employee happiness, productivity, performance, and retention. But how do you create an organizational culture committed to belonging? 

Coaching is one of the best ways to help managers develop inclusive behaviors, create a culture of belonging, and help employees act in ways that help their own and others' sense of belonging. Coaching can help team members do their own inner work to feel more included and vital to their team. Try coaching to improve your own sense of belonging, and then bring it to your entire team! New call-to-action

Published May 11, 2021

Shonna Waters, PhD

Vice President of Alliance Solutions

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