What's one of the best strategies to build employees' sense of belonging?
To help HR best build employees’ sense of belonging, we asked DEI leaders and people managers this question for their best advice. From including employees in discussions and decision-making to creating the space for employee resource networks, there are several strategies recommended for HR to help employees feel a sense of belonging in the workplace.
Here are 13 top HR strategies to build employees' sense of belonging:
- Include Employees in Discussions and Decision-Making
- Ensure a Proper Alignment Between Employee and Company
- Ask Each Team Member What Values Matter To Them
- Provide Employees With Ownership
- Focus on Successful Enablement Training
- Create Outlets for Personable Conversation
- Help Employees See The Meaning Behind Their Work
- Utilize Accessibility Technologies
- Help Your Employees Establish Personal Relationships
- Highlight Team Members' Contributions
- Start With A Culture of Care
- Be Responsive and Connected With Employees Always
- Create The Space for Employee Resource Networks
Include Employees in Discussions and Decision-Making
We’ve heard the expression “Diversity is being invited to the dance and Inclusion is being asked the dance.” Belonging is being able to select some of the music and even being the guest DJ every once in a while. The best bet for companies who want their talent to have a genuine sense of belonging need to not only have programming that addresses them and their needs, but also that includes them in the conversation/decision making and asks and honors their active participation. People truly feel like they belong when they get to contribute and when that contribution is valued.
Ensure a Proper Alignment Between Employee and Company
In working with over 15 Scaleups over the last 3 years I find the same two things contribute to a strong sense of belonging. First and foremost is the individual's alignment to the organization’s Purpose and Values (their Why and How) - this also equates to a strong connection with the Founder's vision.
The second is connection to their direct line manager and to their immediate team. If they can answer the following questions positively then the foundations of belonging exist and can be built on. Do I feel a strong sense of psychological safety with my manager and my team? Do they have my back? If I have an idea or concern can I voice it? Can I be my authentic self in work?
Belonging is the key to talent retention. It is really important to forge a strong sense of Alignment and Connection within the first 90 days and to reinforce it from then onwards.
Ask Each Team Member What Values Matter To Them
One of the things most striking to me in my work as an executive coach is how little senior leaders express curiosity about what motivates the people on their team. It can start by a conversation on values. A leader can share what their most important values are (e.g., loyalty, honesty, trust), why these values matter and what happens when they are in situations not aligned with their values. Then, ask each member of the team what values matter to them.
Find the common ground between the individual values to create a shared team value set. The purpose isn't to create a Stepford Wife experience so much as to create a shared understanding of each other's content and context so that we communicate more effectively not only during our peak performance but, critically, when we are in a trough.
Provide Employees With Ownership
To make employees feel at home, consider giving a sense of ownership in the project that employees do. This has a lasting and big impact because essentially you're providing a buy-in right to the employee. Now the question arises "How do you inculcate ownership within each employee?" There is no 1 right answer to this but there are a few best ways that have worked before. One of the ways is adding ownership into the KRAs. Whatever your employees are working on, give them the ownership of that work. Let them fail, let them learn, let them succeed.
Focus on Successful Enablement Training
Most employees want to contribute. To do this, they need to know how they can contribute, what tasks and projects they should focus on, how they should employ tactics, and how their work fits into the broader organization. These are all matters of successful enablement training. Ongoing communications as well as point-of-need training when employees are "stuck" can help to keep team members up-to-date with where they stand in an organization and how they can contribute. Successfully contributing is a much more meaningful way to belong than coasting by. Not knowing how to contribute is the worst case scenario that can build resentment in teams, the inverse of belonging.
Create Outlets for Personable Conversation
Our personal interests can help us connect with our colleagues and nurture inclusion. Our remote team has created channels within Slack that open the floor to conversations based on hobbies or interests. Anyone can suggest a channel and anyone can join. Some of our channels include #puppiesplus - a channel for sharing images and stories of our pets, #whatwereeating - a channel for sharing our meals and recipes, and #kidsatwork - a channel for parents to connect and share images and stories of their children. These channels not only offer a mental break from the daily grind, but give our team an opportunity to share about themselves and offer a glimpse into what makes each of us unique.
Help Employees See the Meaning Behind their Work
As Simon Sinek says "start with why" and that applies to any company that wants to be successful and retain their employees. For them to feel like they belong, they have to see the value in what they do and find it personally meaningful. Knowing that others share that sentiment solidifies their sense of belonging within that company. Building a community around that in a workplace is crucial as people need connection more than ever.
Utilize Accessibility Technologies
To build your employees' sense of belonging, turn to your internal workflows. These are the systems and functions that your team depend on every day, and if parts are inaccessible, it can make even your longest-tenured employees feel unwelcome. In particular, the regular review and audit of your tech stack should help to avoid this issue.
Be forthright about whether your current software solutions are supportive of those with disabilities, and if they're not, search for alternatives with more refined accessibility features. This may include speech recognition for those with limited mobility, resizable text for those with sight difficulties, or transcriptions for people with hearing loss. This ensures that your tools are intuitive to use and utterly free from barriers.
That being said, technology is evolving every day. Existing solutions are bound to get better at supporting those who need it. To remain inclusive to people of every ability, never stop searching for better.
Help Your Employees Establish Personal Relationships
Creating a sense of belonging in a workforce is becoming increasingly challenging in a world that is increasingly shifting to a remote-first model. Having been onboarded to a fully-remote company, I've experienced this myself. The best way to make employees feel like they belong, is by helping them establish personal connections with their peers.
There are a few ways you can do this: Have employees schedule weekly 1-on-1 ice breaker chats with their colleagues. No work talk, strictly personal; use apps like Donut for Slack that randomly instigate ice breaker discussions between colleagues; engage in team building activities. Team building activities encourage team members to collaborate and get to know each other in a fun setting; when onboarding new employees, encourage your team to individually reach out to new members or consider doing some sort of group activity. This was really helpful for me when I was onboarded as the first remote hire in a new company.
Highlight Team Members' Contributions
One of the best strategies to build an employees' sense of belonging is to highlight their contributions (however big or small) to the wider organization. This connects them, creates a deeper appreciation for their colleagues' work and supports growth across an organization. Having regular showcases from different departments at our All-Hands meetings allows for just this scenario. Everything is visible, transparent and creates a sense of 'being brought along the business journey' without departments and individuals working in silos without recognition for their hard work.
Start With A Culture of Care
Building a sense of belonging at DeVry University is vital and starts with our Culture of CARE. Care for our colleagues, students, families, and the communities we serve. For our colleagues to feel a sense of belonging, each of them must feel that our organization values them.
To that end, our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion work is part of the DNA of our organization. We are committed to educating through safe spaces and uncomfortable conversations, creating supportive environments, and understanding the dimensions of diversity our colleagues bring. At DeVry we celebrate and foster a diverse, inclusive and welcoming environment to create a sense of belonging for every individual. Belonging is a critical factor in improving engagement, performance, retention and institutional success.
Be Responsive and Connected With Employees Always
For leaders, it is vital to focus on employees' sense of belonging during moments that impact their well-being. Let’s take societal and racial crises as an example and how leaders can nurture a sense of belonging as they navigate through the crisis.
As a leader, you need to continuously scan for what is happening in our environment (within and outside of my organization). Be responsive and connected, don’t go about your day as if nothing happened. Create space for self-reflection, group reflection and empathize with the lived experiences of diverse communities because the absence of conversation is silence and silence can be deafening.
Finally, I would highly recommend to proactively reach out to those who are impacted and lend your best listening ear, don’t try to solve the problem for them – sometimes being present and listening to what is being said and not said is what a leader needs to do to co-create the solution.
Create The Space for Employee Resource Networks
Everyone needs a space where they can be their authentic self, where they can show up and not second guess how they look or how they speak. A space where there are commonalities of life experiences and challenges. Because of that, the importance of creating spaces for employee resource networks that are employee-led and providing them with resources to grow cannot be undervalued.
Our employees have shared how critical these spaces have been to their mental health, their personal sense of belonging and career growth. I'm simply not going to stay at a company where I don't feel like I belong. If there are no seats at the table, or people at the table that look like me, then it's time for you to start building more tables and then start connecting them all together.