With February being Black History Month, it allows us to reflect on the many ways in which diversity has shaped American history. It’s also an opportunity to consider the present and acknowledge the future of our work being shaped in small moments every day. Increasingly, one single standard is consistently and universally tied to a person’s workplace commitment, motivation, and overall happiness – and that is a sense of belonging.

At first, companies focused on employee satisfaction, which then evolved into employee engagement, and now, the conversation has
shifted to creating a culture of “belonging” – a key ingredient in the engagement conversation. The organization
BetterUp, a San Francisco-based professional coaching platform, shares from their
research
that “belonging is a fundamental human need… and when we turn our attention to the modern workplace, the same desire of belonging still exists.”

Belonging is what allows employees to feel like they can be their authentic selves and it has a major impact on performance and retention.

Belonging Is Good for Business

The most important thing you have in your company are your people. Belonging should be at the heart of every human capital strategy. This is especially needed since more than 40% of people feel emotionally and physically isolated at work, a finding that transcends gender, age, and ethnicity.

With that said, when workers feel like they belong, companies reap substantial bottom-line benefits. Employees with a high sense of belonging have a 50% drop in turnover risk, see a 56% increase in job performance, and take 75% fewer sick days.  A byproduct of a sense of belonging is the discretionary effort that people will put into their work; going the extra mile, working with passion, and feeling a profound connection to their company. They are the people who will drive innovation and move your business forward.

3 Tips to Help Create a Sense of Belonging

Here are 3 impactful opportunities for how you can create a place that gives people a high sense of belonging within your organization:

1.   Make communication conscious and intentional.

Get to know the people on your team and try to understand their
background and what has shaped them. Invite unique perspectives during meetings and encourage contributions from everyone.
Listen more and show genuine acknowledgement from what you are learning. By leading with empathy and a genuine interest in learning
about employees’ interests, preferences and communication style can help improve collaboration, work productivity and overall happiness for each and every employee in the workplace.

2.   Focus on universal experiences.

Commit to holding consistent and productive team meetings (i.e. weekly, bimonthly, monthly) where everyone on your team can share experiences. Strengthening relationships and building
trust through transparency and authentic story-sharing – the messaging power of internal communications when employees tell stories about their own experiences in relatable ways – is a powerful way to bring people together that wouldn’t otherwise.

For example, by explaining how a peer successfully navigates change, enables us to live vicariously through the storyteller and boosts employee self-confidence and know-how. These stories include action steps and lessons learned that can be easily replicated.

Done right, companies can use employee stories to share meaningful, relevant, and actionable ideas and insight.

3.   Make your employees feel psychologically safe.

The phrase “psychological safety” is taking the workplace by storm. Psychological safety is about creating an environment where people can flourish. It’s about employees feeling empowered
to speak their mind or express an idea fully, without fear of judgment. Coined by Harvard researcher Amy Edmondson and highlighted in
The New York Times Magazine with this Google study, the concept of psychological safety is regarded as a necessary element in
high-performing, agile teams and companies.

But before companies can foster psychological safety and
expect revolutionary contributions, there’s a prerequisite:
employees must be accepted for who they are and valued for what they can bring. We must recognize that people’s diverse backgrounds shape their unique perspectives in the workplace, and their insight and viewpoint is a critical part of growth and innovation within an organization. Psychological safety can help break patterns and habits to create a shift from unconscious bias to conscious inclusion.

What Does This All Mean?

While we may be tempted to think that belonging only matters in our personal lives, today’s new industry research makes it clear that a sense of belonging in the workplace matters for employee
well-being, organizational performance, and diversity.

As we reflect on Black History Month, let’s honor our commitment to diversity, inclusion, and belonging in the workplace and the marketplace – not just this month, but today and every day, and beyond Black History Month.

Research has shown when we work with people who are different from us, they challenge our thinking and sharpen our performance which leads to having a forward thinking and innovative team.

It’s not enough to simply include people at the table: there must also be a sense of belonging for all employees to amplify everyone’s voices, clear barriers, and appreciate each other for their unique
backgrounds to make positive outcomes happen.

What ways are you creating a culture of belonging for your employees? For your customers?