The Importance of a Culture of Belonging

employees working together

Your company culture is one of the most important aspects of your business. After all, your business can’t just be a machine that purely exists to make money. Your stakeholders — whether employees, investors, or the community at large — expect more. Building a business with a strong culture makes for a more rewarding experience for everyone involved.

It’s also vital to understand that your culture needs to have solid foundations of authenticity and inclusivity. Indeed, one of the most in-demand attributes for a company at the moment is to have a culture of belonging. Establishing methods to develop your business to reflect such attributes can have an impact on worker satisfaction and company profitability, among others. Nevertheless, gaining an understanding of the concept and maintaining good practices is not always straightforward.

Let’s take a closer look at the importance of a culture of belonging. What does it mean and how can you best implement it in your business?

What is a Culture of Belonging?

At its core, a culture of belonging is about inclusion. Your shared company values and priorities must be geared toward treating all workers fairly and ensuring they can be their authentic selves without prejudice. You can’t hope to succeed with core principles that shut out portions of society or alienate the people from backgrounds different to your executive leadership.

This doesn’t mean that you have to align your values precisely to the individual needs of each employee. Rather, it’s about establishing sets of cultural principles that help workers to feel more closely connected to and accepted by the company. The underlying elements must ensure workers are celebrated for their personal traits, recognized for their individual contributions, and supported in their endeavors. A culture of belonging also doesn’t limit this to activities within the company. It acknowledges that employees have complex, rounded external lives and seeks to support them through their challenges and triumphs.

Perhaps among the most important elements of a culture of belonging is that it is actively inclusive. Businesses can’t just create passive marketing literature that states support of workers and points them toward resources. Employees and stakeholders alike need to see that there is a genuine commitment to belonging. As such, leadership and human resources (HR) professionals need to be engaged with frequent efforts to boost and improve the overall culture of true respect, support, and inclusion.

What are the Advantages?

The primary reason to build and maintain a culture of belonging with employees is one of ethics. It is unacceptable for business to treat workers from any background as anything less than worthy of full support and investment. However, it’s worth considering that making inclusion efforts can have other outcomes for your business. In fact, commitment to diversity is cited as a core factor among Gen Z’ers when deciding whether to accept a position.

Some of the key advantages of a culture of belonging include:

  • Worker Retention

One of the most significant impacts of helping your workers to gain a sense of belonging is reduced turnover. A recent report found that workers who felt excluded in their jobs were at 50% higher risk of turnover. This is a huge figure considering the financial and cultural costs high turnover represents. By implementing a culture of belonging, your workers forge stronger connections to the business that result in loyalty and commitment.  

  • Greater Engagement

Before turnover becomes an issue, reduced worker engagement becomes far more damaging. Employees that feel excluded understandably tend to feel more detached from the company. This results in drops in productivity and often lower quality of work. Not to mention that such dissatisfaction can spread throughout the organization, having a disruptive influence on the engagement of colleagues. A solid culture of belonging helps to keep workers not just committed to their work but also keen to innovate. The support and recognition they receive is instrumental to empowering them and the company to thrive.

  • Lower Absenteeism

Feeling excluded at work is an extremely stressful experience. After all, these employees are attending a workplace day after day where they are neither nurtured nor embraced for what they bring to the table. The result of this can be a strain on workers’ mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing. It is not unusual for these workplaces to experience high levels of absenteeism. On the other hand, the sense of belonging at work can reduce absenteeism by up to 75%. Businesses that cultivate an inclusive culture recognize how the workplace affects the lives of their employees. These companies don’t just mitigate the negative impact but boost worker satisfaction and enhanced wellbeing.

How Do You Assess Belonging?

You may well recognize the imperative for a culture of belonging. Nevertheless, it’s important to move forward in an informed way. After all, not all methods may fit your business. Indeed, simply implementing random measures could see you missing some key areas of belonging that are currently absent in your company.

The best first step is to gain some solid employee intelligence. Your workers are the primary recipients of the positive and negative aspects of your culture. They live with your company on a daily basis and have a nuanced sense of what elements help them to feel connected and what pushes them away. Not to mention that some aspects of belonging can certainly be subjective depending on workers’ demographics.

As such, a series of survey tools can help you garner the data you need. Create employee experience surveys with quantitative and qualitative questions surrounding the issue. Particularly focus on elements that drive a sense of belonging in the workplace. This includes how able workers feel to be themselves in your company, how valued they feel by colleagues and leadership, and whether they feel their fairly offered opportunities to progress. Providing a route to open feedback by using a conversation platform can also help you to gain additional qualitative feedback in between larger surveys and during any inclusion measures you implement.

Before you issue any surveys or assessments, though, it’s vital to be open with your employees about your intentions. Communicate to them that you want to provide them with a stronger culture of belonging. Talk about the benefits this can have for everyone and that their insights are integral to improvements. Encourage their honesty and assure them of the direct impact their information will have. Indeed, it can be wise to emphasize the anonymous nature of your assessments to help workers feel more secure. This is particularly important, as your questions are likely to involve matters of fairness, prejudice, and leadership critique.

Where Do You Implement Changes?

Once you’ve gained some intelligence, you’re likely to have some clear areas of focus specific to your business. However, alongside these, there are general measures you should implement to maintain or strengthen your company’s culture of belonging. These include:

  • Accessible Development

A culture of belonging provides opportunities for workers to grow. A recent report found 94% of employees would stay at a company longer if it invested in their learning. This is a vital way of demonstrating to workers that your company sees their potential and is keen to nurture them. Most importantly, these opportunities for development need to be accessible. This could include providing alternative training programs for those who don’t find it easy to learn in traditional classroom environments. It could be offering subsidized university courses for workers from marginalized socioeconomic backgrounds.

  • Diverse Leadership

A monocultural leadership is not a positive sign of culture of belonging in a business. This doesn’t mean there is outright prejudice in an organization. But it does suggest that there are limited perspectives and experiences at the most influential levels of the company. More diverse leadership can help workers feel they belong. After all, there are managers and executives that can relate to them and understand the challenges they face. Moreover, it gives the reassurance that there are paths for progression for employees of all backgrounds.

  • Community Activities

A culture of belonging is one in which workers feel connected not just to the company but to one another. As such, it’s always important to implement measures that bolster this. Some team-building activities can be useful, but efforts shouldn’t begin and end here. Workers should be encouraged to suggest community-based activities that the company and their colleagues could be a part of. This may include charity drives or local projects. The result of this is that colleagues can engage in initiatives that are meaningful while also learning a little more about what is ethically, culturally, and socially important to one another. Such actions can transcend colleague groups from being simple teams to becoming mutually supportive communities.

Wrapping Up

There is a lot of discussion about the importance of culture in the workplace. However, perhaps the most vital focus here is to cultivate a culture of belonging. This is an approach that ensures all workers are not just included but also celebrated and supported. It takes some investment, but tools such as intelligence surveys certainly help you to gain insights into key areas of focus. By committing to regular efforts here, you are actively building a culture that can have a direct impact on worker wellbeing, engagement, and long-term retention.