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What the pandemic has really taught us about valuing people

Daniel Saunders, Head of Content EMEA - Qualtrics

During 2020, a sense of belonging emerged as the strongest driver of employee engagement. As we navigated a pandemic, and the resulting organisational disruption, belonging became more important than ever.

For many, a connection to work and colleagues provided sanctuary from chaos, a place to gather with a community, and a place to belong. Without a physical office presence and the ‘human touch’ of having catchups and coffee breaks together, employees needed additional support, and companies needed to step up.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for fostering belonging, but what’s most important is listening to what individual people need and doing the utmost to action feedback.

What we’ve learned about fostering belonging
Wellness programmes are one way to support belonging and ensure that everyone is happy, healthy, and engaged in the best possible way, even from afar. This not only meets your employees’ basic needs, but it also inspires their work and drives better business results too.

As well as feeling supported, other factors emerged as having an impact on belonging:

  • Open and honest communication
  • Being valued as part of a team
  • Pride in corporate social responsibility

These factors are what makes an employee feel as though their company is making a positive impact on the world and help them feel like they are part of a business that is fair and ethical at every level. Part of being fair and ethical isn’t just about the products or services the business provides either, it’s about empowering employees and giving everyone an equal opportunity, through something we know as allyship.

Where allyship comes into the equation
An ally is someone who takes action to back members of underrepresented groups to support social justice, inclusion, and human rights. It is up to people who hold positions of privilege to be active allies to those underrepresented groups to take responsibility for making changes that will help them succeed.

Active allies work to support belonging and create a more inclusive workplace where everyone can thrive. There are plenty of ways to become an active ally too. Every ally can do something beneficial by listening more, understanding different needs, and encouraging productive conversations around important topics.

To be an ally in the workplace, consider directing enquiries or technical questions to certain employees so their subject-matter expertise can be utilised. As well as that, they can advocate for more women, people of colour and members of other underrepresented groups to share their experiences.

While we are working remotely, allies can also make sure that voices are heard on the communication platforms the company uses. Giving great ideas credit, amplifying work that went above and beyond, or even just actively responding to Slack and Teams messages with valuable encouragement or feedback, ensures that everyone feels heard.

Empowering the voices of underrepresented groups
Encouraging employees to practice allyship and foster belonging is one thing, but it also needs to come from the top down. Executives, leaders, and managers need to practice what they preach and put it into action in their everyday roles in the company.

This means getting more involved with the activities and behaviours that bring employees together. Now we have shifted to remote working, physical team-building sessions might not be an option, but this doesn’t stop us from getting to know one another to bridge gaps. This might be in the form of leaders organising workshops, attending seminars, or speaking sessions, or even just having one-on-one conversations with employees.

To create a pledge of belonging and allyship in the workplace, leaders, managers, and employees should come together to educate one another, take the initiative to learn about underrepresented groups and actively prove themselves to be allies. This is the best way to make everyone feel welcomed and feel as though they belong, even as we tackle tough challenges in the year ahead.

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