Manilka Ediriweera notes that employees need to have a sense of belonging

Picture this scene: you are collaborating on a project with your team, and there’s excitement in the air and ideas are bouncing up and down. However, you notice that your team is constantly overlooking your inputs – it’s like being on the side lines while the main event is unfolding.

So how would you feel in such a situation? Would you ignore it or feel excluded – i.e. as if you don’t belong?

The chances are that most of us would feel like we don’t belong. And this exclusion can be damaging as it leaves a sting and carries hefty consequences.

But why do we feel this way?

The truth is that human beings crave a sense of belonging. We naturally tend to want to belong to something bigger than ourselves at some level or another. In fact, it’s a concept that’s hardwired into our DNA – a fundamental human need.

As a result, we crave relationships, and want to feel connected, heard, wanted and appreciated by others – whether they’re family, friends or like-minded people. Almost all aspects of our lives revolve around belonging to something such as a fan club, a sports team, the workplace or even a political group.

A sense of belonging plays an important role in the workplace too; and isn’t simply a feel-good concept or a buzzword. Along with diversity, equity and inclusion, belonging has become a business imperative in today’s dynamic age marked by COVID-19 and the ‘Great Resignation.’

As a matter of fact, belonging can be considered one of the key factors that can make or break an employee’s experience in an organisation.

What does it mean to belong at work?

While there’s no one way to describe what it means to belong at work, the essence of this con­cept can be captured through a few essential elements.

These include being seen for who employees are and what they bring to the table, being connected through positive and authentic interactions, being supported in getting their work done and being proud.

It also runs much deeper as it’s also about being treated as an insider who is empowered to feel safe and bring his or her unique self to work.

These factors have an obvious appeal as they resonate with us. But why does it matter in the workplace?

While the concept of belonging may seem like a fuzzy notion, it’s a game changer that benefits both the workforce and business. Studies have revealed that a strong sense of belonging plays a fundamental role in the lives of employees and it ultimately contributes to the overall success of an organisation.

Belonging in the workplace can prevent social exclusion, which is a powerful source of pain for most of us. A culture of belonging contributes to an enhanced workforce experience. It combats the effects of isolation such as stress, anxiety and lethargy, and improves employee wellbeing.

However, if employees don’t believe that they belong, and feel isolated and insecure about their place in the organisation, it can undermine their performance, creativity and willingness to collaborate. Exclusion can also generate huge financial losses for the business.

But when employees feel like they belong, companies can reap substantial benefits such as improved performance, lower staff turnover, reduced absenteeism and enhanced engagement to name a few.

Improved engagement and performance can lead to better collaboration, problem solving and decision making. In short, belonging matters for business growth and success, as it brings out the best in everyone and everything at work.

Therefore, it makes sense for organisations to actively work towards fostering a culture of belonging in the workplace.

So how can you cultivate a culture of belonging at work?

Firstly, it’s important to understand that it’s a team effort and everyone (from leaders to employees) has a critical role to play. Then think of it in three steps: comfort, connection and contribution.

The workplace isn’t a one-size-fits-all entity. Make the workplace a space where individuals feel comfortable letting their individuality shine through, and where fairness and respect are cornerstones of your way of working.

Employers should also strive to eliminate the likelihood of employees feeling like outsiders. Nurture meaningful relationships within the workplace, create a sense of connection to the organisation’s goals and watch the magic unfold.

Bring everyone on board and highlight how each person contributes to meaningful outcomes, shared goals and the company’s culture. Ensure that you value what each person contributes, and consistently support and nurture your team to bring out their best.

Remember that ‘belonging’ isn’t simply a buzzword. Along with diversity, equity and inclu­sion, belonging constitutes the heart and soul of a thriving business. After all, when you belong together, you can grow together.

Support and nurture your team