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Belonging in the Workplace: Ten Tips and Strategies

Supervisors and leaders are uniquely positioned to build identity and authenticity in the workplace by fostering belonging.

Belonging benefits both individuals and organizations

When there’s a conflict between our sense of identity and our environment (our place of work, for example), our identity can feel threatened. These identity threats may cause us to feel excluded or that we don’t belong. These experiences impact our well-being, including our sense of authenticity.

The need for belonging is hardwired into our being. Research has found that we crave social interaction like food, and that our brains experience the pain of exclusion in the same region as physical pain. In other words, a strong sense of belonging isn’t just a nice-to-have. It’s essential for the well-being of each person and group you lead. Research shows that belonging:

  • Reduces stress, reduces sick days (by 75%), and improves well-being.
  • Is a strong motivator, and it improves performance (56% increase).
  • Increases job satisfaction and reduces turnover risk (by 50%).
  • Draws in people with identities that have been historically marginalized.
  • Can help your group get through difficult or challenging times (like a global pandemic).
  • Directly reduces anxiety, depression, and hopelessness. It indirectly reduces suicidal thoughts.

Foster belonging both now and in the long-term

Small but impactful tips for fostering belonging among the people you lead include:

  • Be an ally. Advocate for those with identities that are more likely to be marginalized.
  • Model inclusive language. For example, introduce new people as a member of “our” team, or opt for “partner” when referring to your significant other.
  • Ask for input. Show you’re listening and demonstrate value by asking follow-up questions.
  • Share opportunities that can lead to professional development. Show trust by delegating.
  • Encourage people to share stories of how they overcame moments of exclusion. Start by sharing your own.

Thinking longer term, the following strategies can help you build belonging into your teams and organization:

  • Develop a diverse workforce. Will new employees see other people who look like them?
  • Assess your workspace for stereotyping cues. What are the stereotypes typically associated with the roles on your team? Do elements in the workspace reinforce those stereotypes?
  • Convey confidence in every individual’s ability and potential for growth. Are employees at higher risk of marginalization or exclusion proactively offered opportunities for professional development?
  • Encourage mentorship. Are employees who have overcome similar challenges available to coach newer employees?
  • Seek feedback on the team experience. Are team members invited to suggest different approaches or team structures that may increase belonging?

In a 2019 article for the Harvard Business Review, researchers with BetterUp noted, “Exclusion is damaging because it actually hurts: the sensation is akin to physical pain. And it’s a sting we’ve all experienced at one time or another.”

If you’re concerned about belonging in your workplace or teams, the good news is that you can effectively change approach. In addition, your EAP offers organizational consultations that may be helpful to you. Call us at 877–313–4455 to request a consultation.

References for this article

For a deeper dive into belonging, check out the research we consulted for this article.

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The Washington State Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a free, confidential program created to promote the health, safety and well-being of public service employees. The EAP is available to provide confidential and expert consultation in a variety of areas. Reach out to EAP by calling 877–313–4455. To find out if the Washington State EAP serves your agency or organization, contact your supervisor or human resources department.

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We deliver high quality, cost effective support services to state government. DES features expertise in statewide contracting, training, printing & mail operations, human resources and financial systems, facilities management, and care of the state capitol grounds and buildings.

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