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Harness the Power of Belonging at Work

authenticity belonging engagement retention Nov 08, 2023

How Focusing on Belonging Drives  Workplace Retention, Productivity, and Engagement

I work with organizations to evaluate and improve diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) within their workplaces. And I often have to make the case that what they should be focusing on and measuring is Belonging. In fact, we use the acronym DEIB - Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging - to describe our work because we believe it is the single most critical measure of DEI efforts. 

What is Belonging?

We define belonging as the employee's experience of their work life.  Inclusion describes the efforts made by the employer, the team, or organization as a whole. And belonging is the result of those successful efforts.  Measuring belonging at work means measuring the extent to which the inclusive workplace measures and equity efforts are working.

Can You Measure Belonging?

Many organizations feel that belonging is an elusive feeling and not measurable. But that's not the case. Belonging is directly measurable in survey questions, and we've found a variety of associated variables that allow us to measure belonging indirectly.  When we consider these measurements collectively, it helps us understand how significant belonging is to different groups and whether our inclusion efforts are achieving their desired results.

We've uncovered two key belonging measures that are statistically correlated with retention and the importance of belonging. Employees who report having a best friend at work are more likely to report an intent to stay and a high importance of belonging. Interviews suggest that having a best friend at work creates a sense of continuity for employees. When employees feel their work and personal lives are harmoniously connected, they're more likely to stay, reducing turnover and its associated costs.

Employees who are excited to bring friends and family to work events also tend to express valuing belonging and an intent to stay in their role. In interviews, those who were excited to bring friends and family were more likely to feel that they were authentically themselves at work.

By measuring belonging in both direct and indirect ways, we get insight into  turnover risks and opportunities to enhance workplace culture. When done well, these measurements provides a better understanding of a diverse workforce's experiences and points our ways to create the shared sense mission that drives business success.

Belonging as a Retention Tool

One of the most compelling reasons to give belonging its due emphasis is its direct link to employee retention. Traditional metrics like job satisfaction and salary no longer hold sole power in determining an employee's loyalty to a company.

In Qualtric's survey of over 11,000 workers, researchers found that those employees with the highest belonging scores displayed a 34% higher intention to stay compared to those with low belonging scores.

In McKinsey's Great Attrition survey, conducted to investigate the numerous job departures in the post-COVID era, 51% of employees who reported leaving their positions in the previous six months cited a lack of belonging as a reason.

The findings of both of these studies are consistent with what we see from consulting clients: when people feel that they belong, the report an intent to stay.

Belonging's Impact on Discretionary Effort and Engagement

In the era of remote work and the silent exit, questions about employee engagement and effort are paramount. Meeting market challenges requires going beyond meeting deadlines and reaching targets. Success demands that employees go the extra mile, offering extra effort to drive the company forward.

Take, for example, a 2004 study of 50,000 employees by the Corporate Leadership Council (CEB). Researchers examined employees' rational and emotional commitment to their jobs. The goal was to understand it's impact on discretionary effort.

Researchers expected to find that a rational commitment - the extent to which employees feel that they are growing developmentally and financially - would be the most predictive of extra effort. Instead, they found that an emotional commitment to their job, team, and manager - the extent to which they reported creativity, inspiration, meaning, pride, and happiness - was predictive of discretionary effort. 

 And younger workers report the link between effort and belonging at even higher rates than other workers. In compiling the data for Fortune Magazine’s Best Places to Work for Millennials, Great Places to Work reported that when millennials experience care at work, they’re 67% more likely to give extra effort. 

Fun and trust, two essential components of belonging, are also among Gen Z’s requirements for giving discretionary effort.

Creating a culture of belonging is essential to ensure employees are engaged enough to put forth the kind of additional effort that leads to business success. For organizations aiming for peak performance from their next generation talent, cultivating belonging is key.

Fostering Authenticity to Acheive Belonging5

Belonging goes beyond fostering a friendly workplace, though that's certainly important. Belonging is about creating a culture where authenticity is a cornerstone.

When employees cannot be their true selves at work, it compromises their wellbeing. In Deloitte’s 2022 study “A New Model of Inclusion,” researchers found that more than 60% of respondents said covering elements of their authentic appearance was somewhat to extremely detrimental to their sense of self. 

In nearly all of our consulting engagements, we've documented a strong connection between an employee's ability to be their true selves at work and their commitment to the organization. Even when pay is less competitive and job responsibilities are demanding, employees who can be themselves tend to stay.

How Belonging Promotes Wellness and Reduces Absenteeism

Another crucial benefit of belonging is its ability to promote employee well-being and reduce sick days. 

When they feel well, mentally and physically, employee's performance improves. Today's employees know that and are coming to expect concern for their wellbeing from = employers.

In 2023 the American Psychological Association surveyed 2,515 working adults in the US. 92% of respondents said it is very (57%) or somewhat (35%) important to them to work for an organization that values their emotional and psychological well-being. 

And when individuals feel included, valued, and connected at work, their overall health and wellness improve. The US Surgeon General, my awesome classmate Vivek Murthy (Harvard ’98!), has named belonging as one of his five factors that employers should focus on to support employee wellbeing.

When individuals feel included, valued, and connected at work, their overall health and wellness improve. This enhanced wellness positively affects their productivity and reduces stress and burnout. Employees who feel a sense of belonging are also less likely to be absent from work because of illness or for personal reasons. Fewer absences leads to increased productivity, lower costs associated with temporary replacements, and smoother workflows.

In Sum:

Prioritizing belonging in the workplace is crucial for enhancing employee engagement, satisfaction, and retention. Measuring belonging offers a comprehensive view of the emotional and psychological aspects of the employee experience. The benefits of belonging extend beyond the workplace, promoting employee wellness and reducing absenteeism. In a fast-paced business world, recognizing and valuing the importance of belonging is key to building a thriving, resilient organization.

When employees feel a deep sense of belonging, collective engagement and shared effort turn challenges into victories. And belonging is self-reinforcing - the more you experience it, the more valued and connected you feel.


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