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What is meant by 'belonging' in the workplace, and how can it be measured?

Inclusion, equity and diversity all relate to the actions an employer takes to help bring about a feeling of belonging for its employees. While there are many definitions of what belonging means, it might simply be understood as having that same feeling at work as you do in a personal setting with friends where you feel comfortable to be there, to share your opinions, to feel truly cared about and accepted, and not afraid to be yourself. You belong.

A workplace that is truly diverse, equitable and inclusive can create a higher sense of belonging for employees, which results in better work performance and retention.

What does belonging at work look like? These are some examples of how an inclusive culture can result in the feeling of belonging:

  • Employees are not only able to share individual perspectives and ideas but also are encouraged to do so and are recognized for their contributions.
  • Employees feel like they can be authentic at work without negative consequences and don't feel the need to hide any part of themselves to fit in.
  • Employees develop meaningful relationships with colleagues, creating trust and a sense of caring.

How does an employer know if employees have a sense of belonging in the workplace? The most effective way is just to ask them. Employee surveys are a great way of gauging the sentiments of workers, but they must be done with purpose. It is recommended to use a neutral third party that can offer some anonymity in responses by reporting aggregate data to the employer, especially in a workplace where there is a lack of trust. Survey questions should gauge whether and how strongly employees agree with statements such as:

  • I feel free to share ideas and suggestions.
  • I feel recognized for my contributions to the team.
  • I feel respected by my co-workers.
  • I feel like I can be my authentic self in the workplace.

The data collected from these surveys should be able to be broken down by certain demographics, such as location and department, that can help to identify if there are areas where feelings of belonging are strong or where more attention may be needed. It is vital that employers follow up and take action based on the findings in employee surveys. Asking employees for their input and then doing nothing with the information is a surefire way to create employee dissatisfaction.

Once an employer identifies where it stands currently, it can begin to take action to improve inclusion efforts and create a stronger sense of belonging at work. For example, if a particular department scores low in recognition for individual contributions, the employer may want to follow up with more anonymous questions or hold a focus group discussion about the practices of managers and supervisors in that department. Is no recognition given at all, are there favorites that always receive credit while others are ignored or is the recognition delivered in a way that makes it feel disingenuous? Based on this additional information, the employer can determine if it needs to provide more coaching to managers and supervisors on when and how to recognize employees or focus in on conscious and unconscious biases that may be impacting their actions.

As employers take actions to address the findings in the employee surveys, subsequent survey scores should be monitored for improvement. 



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