Having a sense of Belonging in your organization is now being recognized as one of the most important factors to drive well-being, engage employees and thus organizational performance.

It was no surprize that Belonging was selected by a small group of Life Sciences leaders to be a topic for our forum and because it was such a great discussion, they wanted to share it with the LinkedIn community so we could all create a better sense of Belonging for our organisations.  It’s time to move from discussion to action!

This article shares what people in our organisations think belonging means and what are some of the things we are doing to engender stronger belonging.

What does Belonging mean?

We asked people in our organizations what they thought belonging meant for them.  Many different aspects emerged:

  1. I want to be seen and heard

“Feeling like you are being heard and not just listened to”

We heard people wanted to make a difference, so when they said something, it impacted.

  1. I’m recognized for my contributions and who I am.

“It is therefore important for TLs to foster sense of belonging by recognizing and valuing the opinions, effort and contributions of team members, in order to strengthen their sense of feeling appreciated and valued for who they are.”

“Belonging is the feeling to be included and accepted by others. In my opinion it is essential for the emotional well-being of the person and the creation of a healthy self-esteem”

 “Acceptance of your uniqueness”

It’s important that opinions and views are appreciated and valued, but belonging goes beyond this to the acceptance of individuals for who they are.

  1. I can challenge and can take risks without fear

 “Creating a safe space where we feel comfortable sharing our thoughts, feelings, and concerns.”

“Being able to voice my opinion and knowing that I may be challenged and being safe with that happening.”

“Safely bring my true self to a place without judging or being judged.”

 We heard from people that being able to not just raise issues and share opinion, but also emotions and feelings without being judged was key to belonging.

  4. The organization’s values are aligned with mine

“Belonging for me, means to feel part of a group or organisation that wholly resonates with my core values and beliefs, so I am able to be my true self in a safe non-judgmental and trusted space.”

Clarity on values and being aligned enables a sense of belonging.

  1. I am part of a bigger community working together towards a common goal.

“Feeling part of something whether that’s a community, a family or people with shared interests.”

“Feeling of being part of something greater than oneself.”

“Part of a group that gives me purpose.”

 Being clear about my role is important but the link to the bigger picture and feeling connected to others is key to belonging.

  1. I’m cared about, I’m happy and loved.

“My direct supervisor values my outside interests and family, frequently checking in on both things. Shows interest beyond work.”

“Belonging to me means safe, secure, happy and that I am loved and respected – connecting with others on a deeper less superficial level.”

At a human level to feel as though we belong, we need to feel a genuine sense of caring.

What are we doing now?

So, what do our organizations do to engender stronger belonging?

  1. Measure through pulse surveys whether employees feel as though they belong.
  2. Use external resources like Owen Eastwoood’s book “Belonging” https://www.linkedin.com/in/owen-eastwood-4867a39/ to inspire and adopt simple ideas like getting to know people from day 1.
  3. Focus on individuals. People need to feel seen, heard and understood for who they are, and recognized for what they bring.
  4. Enable all people managers to be the people who support employees by focusing on individuals. Be clear on expectations and hold them accountable to do this.
  5. Don’t let hybrid working be an excuse for a team not to feel as though they belong. Create time and space to value employees. Conversely putting employees in a room together with no resources does not automatically engender belonging.
  6. Generate trust. Everything you do as a leader either increases or decreases trust. For example, allowing people to have the autonomy to choose their hours of work and trusting they will make time up when they have had to take time off, is a way of building trust.
  7. Develop strategy together. Engage employees in developing strategy. This empowers employees as they see the bigger purpose of the organization they are working in and can input into its direction.
  8. Make people strategies core to business strategy. Make sure that the link between belonging and business outcomes can be seen by everyone and is built into business updates at all levels.
  9. Be transparent. Only by answering questions and sharing decision-making can employees see that their leadership does value and treat them as equals.
  10. Give people hard problems to solve. We noted that adversity brings people together like nothing else. If we address tough issues together then this could have a similar impact.  It’s the start of a successful journey.

Our challenges:

Some watch outs when you are creating a Belonging culture include:

  1. Recognise that performance and psychological safety are both organizational imperatives. If we get too complacent and feel safe, then unless we are stretched performance will suffer.  Amy Edmondson describes in the first chapter of “The Fearless Organization” how both factors are critical for organizational success. And people want to achieve and contribute as well as feeling safe to speak up.
  2. Make hard decisions when individuals cannot work within company values. Sometimes people don’t fit in and decide they don’t want to work in an environment where their values differ significantly from those of the organization. The recognition of this is important as is dealing with this so that a culture of belonging can thrive.

What’s next?

If we are truly serious about impacting our employees’ sense of belonging, there are clearly many aspects to address.  It’s not an easy solution and requires everyone in an organisation to contribute to the sense of belonging we all want to have.

  • How does a feeling of belonging affect your teams’ work?
  • Where have you seen the impact of belonging or its absence?
  • How do you engender a sense of belonging in your organisation?

Thanks to Amina Udechuku, Dianne Lee, Jackie MacRitchie, Jonathan Betts and Sara Vandenberghe