As millions remain confined to working from home through the coronavirus crisis, the challenge of how to ensure colleagues feel a sense of belonging at work is being brought into sharp relief for employers.

We’re in an epoch. Without having to commute, those in newly remote working roles have more time to reflect on what matters to them. Surveys suggest that they are thinking about work/life balance and many want to be re-energised, which comes from feeling that you are making a meaningful personal contribution towards a greater purpose.

In its Human Capital Trends report for 2020, Deloitte says that “now is the time to embed well-being into every aspect of the design and delivery of work itself”. But how do employers build a culture of belonging among their employees? How do they develop the diversity and inclusion agenda beyond a simple commitment to increasing representation of minority groups?

The Black Lives Matters (BLM) movement, which hit international headlines back in June in response to the tragic killing of George Floyd, may offer a useful example. Many big-name brands spoke out in support of the movement. Others used it as an opportunity to reset their targets for employing more black people. But really, the objective should be to integrate diversity and inclusion with the principle of belonging.

So, in this instance, it’s not just about recruiting more black people to the organisation. It’s also about creating and embedding networks of existing black employees into the corporate structure. It centres on ensuring their perspectives are percolating through the business and affecting decision-making. Going beyond simply ensuring ethnic minorities are being treated fairly and respectfully, organisations can liberate them to bring their true and best selves to the workplace.

The discipline of social psychology teaches us there is such a thing as ‘belonging uncertainty’ — the anxiety that stems from a feeling of not belonging. It’s not hard to see how, in a professional workplace, such a condition is more likely to affect colleagues from underrepresented groups, or to envisage the negative impact it could have in impairing their focus.

We are talking here about cultural change that puts the emphasis on three Cs:

  • An individual’s ability to feel comfortable
  • A team member’s connection with their place of work
  • An individual’s ability to contribute to the organisation’s broader goals

It’s important to capture the essence of belonging at work by asking how that valued team member’s daily tasks ladder up to team outputs that not only serve but influence a company’s mission.

For more about the three Cs, watch my video here.

On the topic of staff returning to work, the Deloitte report says employers should “seize this opportunity to step back and make sure that they are creating clear connections across individual jobs, team objectives, and the organization’s mission”.

As I’ve said before on this website, organisations don’t change, people do. So, where should we begin in creating the culture of acceptance that is required to create a feeling of belonging at work?

A useful starting point could be with a company’s leaders. The more leadership teams can demonstrate diversity, not just in terms of representation of different ethnicities and genders but in varied leadership styles, the more junior members of staff from different backgrounds will feel validated. This validation can be driven by their individuality and confidence that their own distinct values systems qualify them for promotion.

It is now widely accepted that diverse teams perform better. They tend to be more innovative. But again, it is by integrating the principle of belonging with diversity and inclusion that we become aware of the additional benefits. Colleagues who are emotionally invested in their workplace are more productive, and the organisational clarity that comes from collaborative objectives saves heaps of time and energy.

I’ve written in the past about the link between effective goal setting and motivation. The more companies can involve individuals in this process — giving them the license to express themselves and bring their unique talents to bear — the more dynamic these individuals will be in delivering their goals.

In my experience, change occurs when we focus on understanding what we can do, instead of what we can’t. If we allow individuals, teams and organisations the time to truly understand that change occurs when we focus on what we can do as individuals, rather than being coerced by someone outside or above, then we create sustainable change.

In a globalised, interconnected and increasingly plural society, multinational companies have long-since understood the importance of fostering values of tolerance and empathy to create the right set of conditions in which teams can flourish.

But COVID-19 has, like nothing before it in this century, focussed the mind on well-being at work and helped to articulate, at a mass scale, a much more holistic understanding of diversity and inclusion. As we move to new ways of working, of colleagues demanding more flexible hours or locations, employers will need to think about how to motivate dispersed workforces. Helping them feel they belong is a great place to start.

Diversity, inclusion and connectivity. All of them impact belonging at work and contribute to how your business can create a culture for acceptance, diversity and inclusion. Get in touch to find out more.

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