Rebekah Tapping, Group HR Director of Personal Group
Belonging is a sense of fitting in. It’s a feeling of approval, being accepted as an important member of a group. The social ties that accompany this sense of belonging provide people with a confidence that can help them do well and feel well at work.
There have been a number of factors that have impacted company belonging over the past year. Firstly, there has been the loss of a central hub or a ‘work place’. More people have been doing their job in isolation, which we know can increase feelings of anxiety and loneliness. Not being surrounded by your colleagues reduces that sense of comradery important in the modern workplace. The notion that ‘we’re all in this together’ becomes questionable and vacuous.
Secondly there’s the issue of furlough. Up to ten million people have spent time on furlough over the past year, leading to uncertainty around their value and contribution to the organisation. This increases the risk of a ‘them and us’ culture evolving, which has significant potential to erode solidarity and a sense of belonging.
We cannot ignore the events of 2020. We need to acknowledge that people have had vastly different lockdown experiences. While some have enjoyed the quieter lifestyle, others have been dealing with issues ranging from loneliness to home schooling to physical illness and homelessness. Lockdown was not created equal.
The importance of belonging
Belonging may feel intangible – but it has a direct impact on company performance. In fact, 79% of organisations say fostering a sense of belonging in the workforce is important or very important for their success over the next 12 to 18 months, according to Deloitte.
A business cannot function without its employees. Companies need to give their workforce compelling reasons to stay after a turbulent year, as well as reasons to perform well and support a speedy business recovery. By prioritising belonging, companies will set themselves up for long-term loyalty and success.
Bringing back belonging
Life over the past year has, at times, felt distinctly unfair – so employers need to consider the differing experiences individuals have had to help re-build trust among their workforces. Leaders should ask themselves: do my employees feel connected? Do they all have equal access to the support and care they need during this time?
In an increasingly fragmented society, creating a true sense of belonging at work can be less straightforward than it sounds. High-performing companies are typically made up of people with diverse views and backgrounds, so leaders need to celebrate their differences, while also bringing people together by the things they have in common. This starts with a joint purpose and values. Employees need to feel like they are a part of something bigger and understand what their personal contribution is.
Recognition is a good place to start. A culture of recognition helps employees to form strong social connections at work; making them happier and healthier, which in turn has a positive impact on their experience at work. As workforces are increasingly remote, it has never been more important to make employees feel like they belong. To feel recognised by (and thus more connected to) their colleagues and the wider business.
Now that the government has declared an official route out of lockdown, it’s time for companies to reflect upon the past year and build a workplace for the future. Understanding the experiences of their employees will help them to identify key priorities in a post-pandemic world. One of which should be regaining a sense of belonging following the disruptions of 2020.
Research has also shown that opportunities for interaction can influence the development of a sense of belonging in individuals. The strategies for this will depend on whether workers are ‘back to normal’ or continuing to work remotely – however this can be achieved through initiatives such as team socials, new communications channels and company celebrations.
Every team is different but, by prioritising belonging, companies will set their workforce up to be well and do well at work.