Request a demo
Back to Blog

How has belonging changed since COVID-19?

March 12, 2021 - 5 min read

elbow bump - how has belonging changed since COVID-19?

I want to belong. It is human to feel that desire in all aspects of my life: work, home, my social circles. In fact, not just wanting to belong but needing to belong is human.  Belonging — feeling part of a group that accepts, likes, and cares for you — goes way back, and is deeply rooted in the survival instincts of our species, because banding together allowed us to build shelters, hunt for food, and stay protected from predators. 

As societies rose and fell, belonging has become more and more an integral part of how we build successful relationships, find happiness, and navigate our personal and professional worlds. When we don’t feel we belong, it is deeply painful. We don’t feel like anyone has our back, and we don’t contribute to our full potential. 

New call-to-action

Historically, feelings of belonging have been driven largely by strong social connections to others in our groups. Whether it be a coffee chat or working together on a shared project, there is no denying the crucial role in-person collaboration played on belonging. But now that COVID-19 has pushed relationships remote and created more isolation, the impact on belonging is profound — especially in the workplace.  

BetterUp Labs has found that employees who feel excluded experience 25% loss in performance and are 50% greater risk of turnover. In the time of remote work and social distancing measures, what does belonging look like, and how do we foster it? BetterUp Labs set out to understand how the drivers of belonging have shifted in a pandemic reality.

What the data say

Through our research on thousands of employees across the globe, we have seen that a high sense of belonging is predicted by a specific set of individual skills. 

Before the pandemic, the top three predictors of a high level of belonging were skills in the following: 

  1. Social Connection
  2. Emotional Regulation
  3. Authenticity

In essence, before the pandemic, those who remained close and engaged with people, didn’t let emotions get the best of them, and allowed people to know them personally, tended to feel the greatest sense of belonging.  

It’s no surprise that COVID-19 affected how we communicate and relate to others at work. Since the pandemic, the drivers that  predict high belonging have shifted to: 

  1. Relationship Building
  2. Social Connection
  3. Self-compassion

Today, individuals with the highest belonging are good at building relationships by taking a genuine interest in others and showing care and concern for them personally. They aren’t letting physical distance mean emotional distance. They are putting thought and effort into relationships. And in times of great challenge, with a contentious macro-environmental backdrop, those with the highest belonging are accepting themselves and regarding themselves as worthy. In sum, what is driving belonging today is a healthy state of relationship to others and to self.

These data show that to belong, we don’t need to be a model of perfect emotional control — who is these days? But rather, to belong, we need to show care and concern for others and care and concern for ourselves. To be accepted by others, we have to first accept ourselves.

Why it matters

What’s compelling about the idea of individual skills like relationship building, social connection, or mindsets of self-acceptance driving belonging is that this lens shifts agency to the individual. We can help ourselves reach higher levels of belonging, just as organizations can help create environments and leaders that foster belonging. By supporting individuals in building the skills to better relate to others, our teams, and ourselves, organizations can help each individual carve a personal pathway to belonging. And in a post-COVID new normal, that feels very reassuring.

See how BetterUp works - Watch Demo


Published March 12, 2021

Erin Eatough, PhD

Sr. Insights Manager

Read Next

Research & Insights
6 min read | June 8, 2021

Stay or go? Can belonging drive retention?

We looked at BetterUp Member data to better understand how one factor — feeling a sense of belonging — drives a person’s intent to stay with their employer. Read More
4 min read | July 27, 2021

Hybrid work puts inclusive leadership to the test

In a new era of work, inclusivity is more important. Yet, what it means to be inclusive has shifted. How do we prevent “in-group” and “out-group” dynamics? Read More
Research & Insights
4 min read | November 17, 2021

Managers have a strong effect on team performance, for better or worse

Thriving managers improve team performance. But what about managers who are struggling? How team outcomes are impacted when leadership is lacking. Read More
Research & Insights
8 min read | January 12, 2022

Language analysis reveals how coaching has evolved over the last 3 years

As we start a new year, we used language analysis to look back at how professional coaching has changed over the past three years Read More
Research & Insights
8 min read | January 27, 2022

Managers and individual contributors take different approaches to coaching

We used natural language processing to see how and why coaching topics differ between managers and individual contributors Read More
Research & Insights
8 min read | June 9, 2022

Love them or hate them, meetings promote social learning and growth

New research shows how synchronous interactions (aka: meetings) support employee learning and growth better than alternatives like email and chat. Read More
Research & Insights
10 min read | June 28, 2022

How to build a healthy organization with Josh Bersin and Rajiv Chandran

Author and analyst Josh Bersin & Accenture’s Chief Learning Officer Rajiv Chandran teach how to build Healthy Organizations that support employee well-being. Read More
Employee Experience
11 min read | July 28, 2022

How to build a culture of connection with Shawn Achor and Farrell Redwine

Farrell Redwine, CHRO at Nordstrom, and author Shawn Achor explain how connection fuels performance, boosts well-being, and retains top talent. Read More
Research & Insights
7 min read | August 19, 2022

Why connection is crucial for employees of color

Employees of color have long experienced the effects of a lack of inclusion in the workplace. Here's how companies can help bridge the connection gap. Read More

Stay connected with BetterUp

Get our newsletter, event invites, plus product insights and research.