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People are leaving their jobs in droves. And, interestingly enough, the pandemic didn’t start this trend. The numbers have steadily been rising over the last ten years but ramped up because of the pandemic chaos and uncertainty. The reasons are many including quiet quitting, work to rule, quiet firing, mental health issues and lack of work/life balance, but in particular, there are a large number leaving because they feel like they don’t belong. And a manager’s quest should be to fix this problem.   

The reality is that we humans are hard-wired for connection. It’s why we stop in the hall to chat and go to lunch or happy hour with colleagues. Even those of us who are naturally introverted may on some level still have a need to feel the pulse, so to speak, of other humans in close proximity – even if we don’t want to actively engage. This interaction, however small comes from an innate desire for community.  

To be a part of a community is to feel connected and we all deserve to have this basic human, even primal need met. And recent research backs this theory up, specifically in the workplace. “If workers feel like they belong, companies reap substantial bottom-line benefits. According to “The Value of Belonging at Work Harvard Business Review, high belonging has been linked to a whopping 56% increase in job performance, a 50% drop in turnover risk, and a 75% reduction in sick days. For a 10,000-person company, this would result in annual savings of more than $52M.” With jaw-dropping stats like that, every manager on the planet should be scrambling to improve belonging in their teams and overall organization. 

How to increase a sense of belonging at work  

As leaders, managers have a responsibility for making sure their people feel like they belong. And because company culture is a living, breathing eco-system, every time a new person is added to the bunch, that eco-system shifts. So what can managers do to help encourage belonging?   

For starters, they can start walking the walk, and not just talking the talk. There are a lot of companies who have begun integrating language around inclusion on all levels, but somehow, they stop shy of hitting the mark. How is it possible that an annual investment of $19 billion dollars is still coming up short?  

It may be because managers aren’t doing enough in regard to personal reflection and self-awareness. These can both be strengthened through a focus on something medical anthropologist Geri-Ann Galanti has coined cultural competence. According to Galant, this foundational attribute creates a culture shift where managers and leaders have the necessary awareness and the ability to care for others through an appreciation of the differences in people and cultures and the unique opportunities and challenges for both. 

To begin improving the cultural competence on a team, managers can implement strategies for creating a sustainable solution that will encourage and uphold a sense of belonging for all involved. Here are a few suggestions to help implement this idea today. 

  • Two way, open communication – both horizontally and vertically. 
  • Give some power to the people: empower team members by giving them a voice. When they’re allowed to weigh in on decisions, they’ll be more apt to buy in because it shows how much you value what they do and say. 
  • Dig deep and focus on internal work – take time for regular self-reflection to assess current internal beliefs. There may be room for some growth that’s being overlooked.  
  • Use inclusive language with direct reports to encourage mental and emotional well-being. And, check back often to make sure what you’re doing is resonating.  
  • Prioritize connection – take initiative for building a sense of belonging on the team. Lead the charge and set the example. 

These are excellent examples of how a manager can help their people feel a sense of belonging, but is there really a “one size fits all” solution for all?  

A “one size fits all” solution will never check all the boxes 

Ever heard that saying “different strokes for different folks? Every single person has different emotional needs and these needs are crucial to our success so it’s key for managers to understand this really important aspect of leading a team. Whether you’re team and/or company is in need of an “evolution” or “revolution in regard to your culture of belonging, we believe the culture (r)evolution starts with YOU. Each and every manager (of one or many) has a responsibility to help their teams improve in whatever way is needed.  And when managers take that responsibility seriously, it shows. Team members appreciates each other for what they bring to the group (their different ideas, perspective, thought process, etc). There is an authentic drive for meaningful relationships. And, there is an appreciation for the diversity of personality in the people they work with on their own teams or even cross functionally. 

These points get down to the essence of what it truly means to establish a sense of belonging in the workplace for everyone, but no single solution is ever going to work for all people at all times. We all show up in the world differently. And, we all see the world through a different lens. Therefore, we may each approach the solution to this problem from a different angle, which is not a bad thing at all. Sometimes it’s that diversity of thought as much as a diversity of personality that matters to a team’s success. According to McKinsey & Co, “Workers are hungry for trust, social cohesion, and purpose. They want to feel that their contributions are recognized and that their team is truly collaborative.” 

And, the lack of a sense of belonging is one of the top three most important reasons employees give for leaving their job, so this is something managers cannot afford to get wrong. Employee belonging is positioned front and center in the struggle to attract and retain top talent. 

Kim Scott, author of Radical Candor once said, “We can’t fix problems that we refuse to notice.”  If the manager’s quest is to create a sense of belonging for all, each will have to be willing to truly see the problems that exist and should be addressed. It’s no longer ok to be blissfully ignorant of the reality that some people on our teams are actually living. Managers and their organizations have to be willing to ask themselves the right questions. Here’s a short list of things to consider: 

  • What are we doing to consciously create opportunities for people to feel like they belong? 
  • What does it look like to “belong” in this organization? 
  • How are we helping employees feel like valued members of the team/org? 
  • Are all voices heard here, and if not, who is? Who isn’t and why? 
  • Are certain types of individuals lifted up in this org while others are not? 
  • What are they? 
  • What happens to those that don’t fit that model? 

Let these questions be a launching pad for creating connection and community in your team and overall organization. Lead the charge and set the pace. After all, the Culture (R)evolution really does start with you. 

If you’re looking for ways to support your team(s) call us. We’d love to help you create a culture of belonging that grows as your company grows.

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