October 5, 2023

Belonging and Inclusion

by Sam Lopez

It’s impossible to talk about organizational planning and priorities in 2022 without thinking about workplace culture. One that supports people as people, where employees feel comfortable utilizing their individual strengths and experiences in their role. It’s a people-centric initiative that at one point not too long ago would have been considered one for the future – one for a generation that hadn’t yet emerged in the workplace. The future is here, and the workforce is demanding a company culture that goes far beyond ping pong tables and free lunch. Belonging and purpose now matter more than ever to the employee experience. One that is inclusive of all backgrounds, experiences, and beliefs. One that understands them as competitive assets, rather than obstacles.  

According to Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace: Benefits and Challenges, Gartner found that inclusive teams improve team performance by up to 30 percent. Inclusive organizations are healthier, happier, and more productive. In short, creating belonging in the workplace isn’t just good for people, it’s good for business.

Belonging and Inclusion – Where Culture Thrives

Belonging is when employees not only feel accepted but encouraged and celebrated to be exactly who they are.  It’s an unconditional nod to bring one’s best self to work every day.  It’s a culture that values each employee’s unique talents, skills, backgrounds, and perspectives – making it a competitive advantage for any organization. It’s an organic shift that allows employees to see that their unique offering directly ties to the goals and success of the organization.

As it stands today, there are many employees in organizations who do not feel as if they belong.  Recent research conducted by the EY Belonging Barometer study suggests that 40 percent of working adults experience feelings of isolation in the workplace. That’s a significant amount of productivity left on the table. Organizations would be remiss to not address this by implementing a tool that can combine people’s personal strengths and professional talents with a career path that connects them to purpose.

Inclusion is the ideal state when an organization has created an environment where a blend of individuals with different talents, experiences, and backgrounds are able to both individually and collectively come together to maximize their potential – maximizing overall productivity.

If employees do not feel seen, heard, and understood as people, an organization will never fully reach that ideal state of maximizing everyone’s potential.  If organizations focus on creating a culture and environment that supports inclusion and diversity of thought, a sense of belonging will naturally follow. These are the experiences that contribute to better retention. They’re superior to forced initiatives that fall short, leaving employees confused and wondering what the organization’s true intentions are.

Bringing Inclusion and a Sense of Belonging Together

So, how does an organization create a sense of belonging?  How do its leaders work to create an environment that feels inclusive and purposeful?  What has the most potential to increase engagement within the workforce?  There are many inclusive workplace practices that companies can implement to build a culture that honors people for people, while positioning them for success.

Promote a Culture of Psychological Safety

Allow employees to have multiple opportunities to freely express ideas and to provide feedback without fear of retaliation or criticism.  Leadership and management teams must find a way to be open, transparent, and vulnerable.  Don’t be afraid to share the good, the bad, and the ugly where possible. This helps to foster a mutual feeling of “we are in this together” and supports the idea that an organization’s success is a collaborative effort.  This encourages employees to not only identify problems but help solve them.

Implement Tools To Coach People as People

Make it common practice for employees and their managers to check-in with one another. Implementing a tool that keeps this regular and productive on both sides is key. This is even more impactful for workforces that may work primarily remote. Creating opportunities for employees and their manager to get to know each other, discuss challenges, and solve real-time problems together is perhaps an unexpected, but highly effective way to drive deep belonging. Employees at any level need to feel heard, understood, and supported. Managers are an organization’s greatest asset in driving belonging at scale. So, let discussions where perspectives and new points of view can be discussed, and where high-quality work and relationships can emerge.

Encourage Company-Wide Interest and Social Groups

A great way for employees to feel inclusive in the workplace is when they can find others who share similar interests. Identifying and encouraging company-wide interests such as volleyball teams, book clubs, food clubs, technology brainstorming groups can bring employees from different teams and backgrounds together. It’s an organic way to naturally promote collaboration and an overall greater level of acceptance.

Show Correlation Between Roles and Company Success

A sure-fast way to help employees feel included, and as if they belong to something bigger, is to provide them with a linear view of how the work they do directly ties to organizational success. This gives employees a sense of knowing they are responsible for not only their own personal success but ultimately connected to something more team-based, and bigger picture. The more personally invested people feel, the more accountability they feel to the organization and its success. Bring trust to the table with practices like:

  • Allowing employees to present and implement new ideas
  • Allowing employees to fail and learn in safe environments
  • Providing a framework that provides direction but allows for flexibility and autonomy

Make Inclusion and Belonging a Part of Core Practices

It’s important to walk the walk throughout this whole process.  An organization must do more than say they are an inclusive organization.  It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and it’s a mindset shift, not a fad.  Implement an inclusive culture throughout the organization by changing recruiting processes to encourage inclusion and diversity. Cast a wide net when hosting celebrations or social events throughout the organization. Hold focus groups with employees to understand how the organization can improve in terms of inclusivity and then listen and act accordingly.  Perhaps most importantly, ensure that succession, training and development, and mentorship opportunities are all-encompassing, keeping everyone connected to purpose and equal opportunity.

The Bottom Line

Inclusion and belonging aren’t going away. One simply cannot exist without the other. In fact, they are critical in an organization’s strategy to attract and retain top talent. The best formula is a multi-pronged approach that builds an environment where everyone can feel heard, seen, and understood by their peers. Work towards building a culture that offers a space for people to authentically be themselves and do their best work because of it.

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