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Belonging and its profound impact on workplace wellbeing

Discover how prioritising belonging in the workplace can lead to increased job satisfaction, loyalty and innovation.

There are a lot of moving parts in the modern workplace. The larger your organisation, the more challenging it can be to get all those parts moving in the right direction. This is especially true for HR or DE&I leaders, who must try to do it all while balancing the demands and expectations of productivity, innovation, and cohesion.

The answers to these challenges can be just as numerous as the problems themselves. But ultimately the solution comes down to one word: belonging.

The core of belonging

Belonging is for everyone. Stop and think about that statement for a second. Try saying it again with emphasis on the direct object of the sentence: “Belonging is for everyone.”

The more you think about it, the more you may realise: that’s not a particularly ground-breaking statement. In fact, it’s pretty obvious. Belonging is obvious.

But sometimes the most obvious things are the most difficult to do. And sometimes difficult things are necessary.

At this point, some sceptical part of you may be raising an eyebrow, feeling that you’ve encountered another buzzword. But don’t let your cynicism get the better of you. Belonging is vitally important and it’s not a flavour-of-the-week concept. Aristotle observed – several thousand years ago – that humans are a social species. Our need for belonging is as fundamental as the need for food or shelter.

In the context of the workplace, a secure sense of belonging can empower an employee to be more creative, more collaborative, more productive, and notably more resilient. Without belonging, things can go south quickly: feelings of isolation, disengagement, exclusion, and often burnout. Talking Talent research has found that of those who had personally experienced exclusion 58% said the experience led to feelings of stress and anxiety. Over time, this can erode an individual’s work performance and mental health.

Simply put: everyone benefits from belonging.

Take yourself back to a place or time where you felt genuine belonging at work: what did that feel like? Did you feel seen, heard, relevant? A part of something?

If you’re someone who has traditionally been the focus of DE&I efforts, you may find that exercise a little difficult. This is because traditional DE&I efforts, though well-meaning, have often had the wrong focus – unintentionally leaving people to feel that they are too ‘separate’ to belong. So, what’s to be done?

The role of connection

When belonging is cultivated, employees typically report higher levels of job satisfaction and loyalty. For example, a study by Harvard Business Review found that workplaces with a high sense of belonging saw a “56% increase in job performance, a 50% drop in turnover risk, and a 75% reduction in sick days”

Additionally, the psychological safety that accompanies belonging encourages employees to take risks and innovate without fear of negative consequences to image, status, or career. Imagine your workplace full of those individuals: what does that look like?

Shaping a culture of belonging

HR and DE&I leaders are instrumental in shaping organisational cultures that foster belonging. This includes:

  • Acknowledging individuals are more than a set of labels: Individual-level interventions, like coaching, have been shown to be more beneficial to employee wellbeing than broader wellbeing interventions such as mindfulness, relaxation classes, or wellbeing apps (Dr William Flemming, Wellbeing Research Centre). Addressing the individual needs of your employees will inspire inclusivity and belonging from the inside out.
  • Change the workplace not just the worker: Recent research suggests that sustainability of employee wellbeing is far more likely when individual-level interventions are seen in conjunction with deeper organisational changes such as flexible scheduling, management practices, and job design. (Dr William Flemming, Wellbeing Research Centre)
  • Build a community: Facilitating connections among employees, such as interest groups or sponsorship and mentoring programs, can enhance interpersonal bonds and a sense of community.
  • Foster inclusive leadership: Leaders must model inclusive behaviours, actively encouraging diverse perspectives and equitable practices. Empowering your leaders through coaching is the most effective way of addressing the gap between demands placed on them and their capacity to lead.

Tricky but important work

The intangible and all-encompassing nature of belonging is part of what makes it so challenging. But just because something is challenging doesn’t mean it should be ignored. 

Belonging’s impact on mental and emotional wellbeing – and, by extension, on organisational health – is undeniable. HR and DE&I leaders can use the power of belonging to build stronger, more resilient organisations where every individual feels a sense of acceptance and purpose. In a practical sense, that translates to higher retention and increased engagement.

By prioritising belonging, organisations not only enrich the lives of their employees but also spur teams toward greater achievements.

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