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Belonging: The Cornerstone
of the Human Experience at Work

On a black background is a set of diverse colored crayons and in the center the title "On Belonging At Work."
Hacking HR Team

Posted on December 04, 2023

Five fundamental principles of building a great workplace are generally clustered together: diversity, inclusion, equity, belonging, and psychological safety.

But they are not the same. In fact, each of them -individually- is not enough. They need each other to create a self-reinforcing positive upward spiral of workplace transformation that offers the greatest human experience for the employees and the most amazing outcomes for the organization.

A Venn Diagram showing Belonging at the intersection of Inclusion. Equity, and Diversity.
Image credit: Trent University.

We have so stubbornly and narrowly focused on “engagement” or “employee experience” that we completely missed the mark on something much bigger and more important: the human experience we can deliver at work.

That human experience relies, among other things, on helping people feel a deep sense of belonging.

On Belonging

Belonging is an innate human need and a driving force for every human who has ever lived. Whether belonging to a family, a tribe, a community, a city, a nation-state, an organization, or simply to humanity, belonging energizes humans in ways that almost nothing else can do.

Considering that people spend nearly half of their waking time at work during the week (if not more!), it makes sense that we need to feel like we belong at work, too.

Whether or not a team member feels isolated or included can make a tremendous difference. If you’re an HR representative, this should be one of your top priorities. By unleashing the unlimited power of belonging, not only will you be addressing one of the fundamental pillars of a great human experience at work, but simultaneously, you will help people feel so committed that they will create and deliver never-seen-before amounts of value!

Belonging at work is about creating a culture and work environment where employees feel valued, heard, and included. Studies show that companies with higher levels of belonging -expressed through the success of their diversity and inclusion strategies- have higher levels of engagement, job satisfaction, and performance and lower levels of turnover, stress, and anxiety.

Therefore, creating a culture of belonging is not only good for people but also VERY good for business.

Belonging creates a profound sense of connection and affirmation at work. Belonging reaffirms that everyone's contributions and identity are valued and integral to the organization's collective mission. The feeling of belonging is nurtured and nourished when an employee, regardless of their background or role, knows that their voice matters, that their unique experiences enrich the team, and that they are not just seen but truly understood.

To truly cultivate and create a culture of belonging, organizations, their leaders, and employees must go beyond "programs" or "strategies." They must be genuine about their interest in fostering belonging. This genuineness is operationalized by creating spaces where employees can share their stories and be met with empathy; leaders taking the time to listen, understand, and act; and recognizing that every person, with their unique background and perspective, adds a vital piece to the giant puzzle that is an organization.

This is how belonging at work positively impacts people and business: Employees who feel they belong are often much more inspired and motivated, and deliver their results with higher effectiveness and efficiency Employees who feel that they belong are more committed to the company's mission and values Employees are more likely to stay with a company where they feel valued and included Belonging impacts turnover by reducing people's desire to look for opportunities elsewhere, saving businesses recruitment and training costs Engaged employees are more passionate about their work, leading to higher productivity. The pathway to higher engagement is creating the conditions for higher belonging Teams that foster belonging are more likely to produce innovative solutions Isolation or exclusion at work leads to stress and anxiety. A way to improve people's mental health and overall well-being is by making them feel that they belong to the "work community" Employees are more likely to work together and collaborate more effectively when they feel that they belong Employees who feel they belong are generally happier with their jobs Companies known for inclusivity and belonging are able to create a stronger reputation, employer brand and, consequently, attract and retain top talent Leaders and teams that promote belonging bring diverse perspectives to their discussions, leading to better decision-making When employees feel that they belong they also think more openly and creatively about work challenges and problem-solving Employees are more likely to show up and be present when they feel they're a valued part of the team Companies with diverse and inclusive teams are more profitable. Belonging is diversity and inclusivity in action When employees feel they belong, they're more likely to take risks and experiment, which leads to more ideas and potential innovations, as well as a more creative approach to problem-solving Belonging inspires employees to seek out opportunities for professional development Teams that foster belonging tend to be more unified and supportive of one another. A culture of belonging reduces misunderstandings and conflicts that arise from cultural or personal differences. In addition, when employees feel that they belong they are more likely to resolve conflicts in an effective manner Companies that prioritize belonging are often more adaptable to change
This is How Belonging at work positively impacts people and businesses.

Creating a Sense of Belonging at Work

How can organizations unleash the creative potential and talents of their employees?

There are many answers, but a strong one is this: by creating and increasing their sense of belonging to the organization they work for.

As I mentioned before, belonging refers to what people and groups feel when they are accepted in the organization's community for who they are and with their specific traits and needs. People and groups who feel that they belong also feel that they can be authentic.

People are CRAVING for meaningful connections to communities and "tribes." They want to feel that they belong to "something" that values them and allows them to thrive. Belonging is not only natural to humans; it is a powerful driver of happiness and joy.

Then, why do organizations so often miss out on creating a culture of belonging to their own detriment? Why are so many workplaces "content" with getting a little bit of value from their people instead of getting the best of the best by creating belonging?

We may never understand why... but we know that it's possible to create and increase people's sense of belonging to their organizations and improve their lives while they deliver better results at work. This isn't a paradox. The possibility of doing both is real, tangible, and consequential.

A banner with the title "6 ways to create  a sense of belonging at work," and below, six text boxes with the following titles: 1. create psychological safety at all levels. 2. do everything to help people feel included. 3. become mindfully curious about people. 4. inspire people to connect with others. 5. show gratitude and give people credit. 6.  create belonging accountability metrics.
6 Ways to create a sense of belonging at work

Actionable Steps to Create Belonging

To create belonging, first, you must have a solid understanding of what belonging means. As I mentioned before, generally, we lump belonging in with diversion, inclusivity, psychological safety, etc. They are not the same. They are complementary to each other. And using them interchangeably can create not only confusion, but move us in the wrong direction.

Belonging is a separate feeling. Coqual breaks belonging down into four distinct elements:

1) being seen for your unique contributions;

2) connected to your coworkers;

3) supported in your daily work and career development;

and 4) proud of your organization’s values and purpose.

As you can see, belonging is very different from inclusion or diversity.

It is also a bit more challenging to achieve. You can’t simply broaden your candidate pool or hang up some posters.

You can, however, start with these four elements.

Making People Feel Seen

Ask yourself - how can you make employees feel seen? Make a point of looking for individual strengths. Maybe one person is really great at public speaking and presentation, while another can work through a spreadsheet faster than anyone in the office.

Work with management to get projects assigned based on these individual strengths. Not only will this make employees feel as though their talents are recognized, but the work they produce will be better.

Connected To Coworkers

Employees are more than their work, though. Get to know team members as people.

What are their hobbies? What does their family look like?

By recognizing that employees are more than just employees, you can foster a sense of connection. Again, it is the HUMAN EXPERIENCE! Encourage professional communities within your organization. Break the silos. Let team members work as a team. Remember that your team members are still people outside of the office.

You can foster a sense of connection by recognizing that employees are more than just employees.

Supported In Their Daily Work

Support at work is one of the most critical things you can do for employee well-being. If you, as HR, are not responsible for evaluations or performance reviews, have conversations with those who are.

Good employees require feedback, just like plants need sunlight. Don't stick an employee at a desk and never talk to them, just like you wouldn't put a fern in a dark corner and never water it. That’s no way to grow.

Proud Of The Organization's Value and Purpose

Pride may be the trickiest one to earn. First, team members have to agree and align with the morals and outcomes that the business is creating. They cannot be proud of work they don't fundamentally agree with. Sometimes, this means business and employee alignment. Some other times, this leads to the profound and painful realization that there is no alignment and tough choices have to be made.

Sometimes, this leads to the profound and painful realization that there is no alignment and tough choices must be made.

Next, companies should be transparent about gains and losses. Not only does this help employees feel more engaged with what's happening with the company, but they also get that sense of pride when things go well. Even if the employee has nothing to do with the actual success, being aligned with or associated with the company can be enough to create this. Let employees know the awesome things the company is doing!

Of course, these things are easiest to achieve when you already work for an inclusive company doing great things. If you're missing the mark in one area, chances are you're missing the entire target.

Why Belonging Matters: The Numbers

Why should we even worry about belonging, anyway? After all, we're being sent to $8 billion worth of diversity training every year, remember? Sure, they’re different, but you may ask yourself - is belonging really that important? On top of everything else HR does?

It’s another simple yes.

Harvard Business Review did more than create an article; they surveyed nearly 2000 employees, hoping to “measure the cost of exclusion.”

Here’s what they found.

  • Belonging Is Good For Business

“High belonging was 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 more than $52M annual savings.”

Is $52 million worth trying to create a sense of belonging? What about having to hire 50% fewer people because turnover is lower? Dollars can not quantify your time, but it is just as important.

The numbers are there. The statistics support the idea that a sense of belonging in the workplace is good for business.

  • Belonging Is Good For Employees

It's also good for employees. One study showed that exclusion can be as uncomfortable as physical pain. You would never want to put your employees in physical pain - and so you should never want them to feel excluded.

Have you ever heard the phrase that a company is only as good as its employees?

What about that a company is only as good as their “worst,” unhappiest employee? If you were to be judged by the employee who talked over in every Zoom meeting, what would it say about the business?

What would it say about the business if you were judged by the employee who talked over in every Zoom meeting?

And in today's culture, this might not be a hypothetical. Disgruntled employees often turn to social media like Twitter to complain about their company and bosses. This can have devastating impacts not only on business and customers but also on hiring and current team members.


To avoid losing money, being badmouthed on social media, and having unhappy team members, take the extra time to create this sense of belonging. It really is that important.

Robert Gibbs, associate administrator for the Mission Support Directorate at NASA, said

“From an astronaut to an accountant, we’re all pulling on the same rope, in the same direction, trying to achieve the same thing.”

Isn't this a fascinating thought?

Regardless of your work line, whether you are speaking with senior executives or a new temporary employee, you all have the same goal. You’re all at the same company, on the same team, working for the same thing.

Everybody wants to feel included. Everybody wants to feel liked and supported. Everybody wants to be proud of where they work.

Everybody wants to feel like they belong. It's human nature.


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