Gallup's State of the Global Workplace: 2022 Report shows that 71% of U.S. and Canadian workers say now is a good time to find a job. As a result, employee belonging has moved front and center in the war to attract and retain top talent. In fact, 42% of U.S. employees say that having an employer that is diverse and inclusive of all people is very important when considering their next job.
If you have ever been relegated to a team by default because no one picked you, or worse yet, heard moans of disappointment as you joined them, you will know the importance of belonging. It is difficult to feel good about yourself, your circumstance, or perform well when feeling judged or rejected. On the contrary, belonging is about being respected, welcomed, and valued.
Like on a sports team, people at work don't want to just be liked, they want to feel needed. If the team wins, they want to feel like they played an important role in the success. In the example above, imagine instead that you were picked for the winning team and told, "We couldn't have done it without you!" How different would you feel? Individualized and deserved appreciation goes a long way toward making people believe their unique talent, experience, and personality matter and belong.
Employee belonging has moved front and center in the war to attract and retain top talent.
While attracting and retaining diverse talent to your organization isn't as easy as picking a sports team, creating a sense of belonging is simpler than you may think. It boils down to three ideas and a bit of psychology.
Unique, creative and innovative organizational solutions come from people who share a common purpose but have different perspectives on how to fulfill it. When people feel comfortable sharing their true thoughts and opinions, they feel like they are working in a culture and organization that sees and respects them for who they are. They believe they belong.
Unfortunately, only three in every 10 U.S. employees agree that their opinions count.
Why might this be so? Because when they do speak up, nothing really changes. Their perspectives and ideas don't matter or affect the way business gets done.
As managers and leaders, we need to recognize that we don't have all the answers. We need to adopt a mindset that others can help us continue to grow and make better decisions, leading to improved and successful outcomes. We must advocate for employee ideas by actively listening to them, responding, and sharing why an idea is good and can be implemented (then shared and celebrated) or why, perhaps, it is not.
The results are clear: If managers moved the number of employees who feel their opinions count to six in 10, it could reduce turnover by as much as 27%, safety incidents by 40%, and increase productivity by 12%.
People feel most comfortable and uninhibited with their best friends.
This is why having a "best friend" and "someone who cares about you as a person" at work matters so much for engagement and belonging. Having deep relationships at work means there is a higher level of trust, comfort and care. Work becomes a place you want to be because of the people you get to interact and connect with. Such an environment fosters a higher level of care for the work you do and those around you who are impacted by it.
For example, if you truly care about those you work with, you may be more likely to take time to correct an unsafe situation, help someone in need, make someone feel valued by recognizing their achievements, or simply do the best work you can to ensure the team wins.
Belonging is about being respected, welcomed and valued.
Studies show a strong correlation between having a best friend at work and business performance, so it is important that managers provide the time and create opportunities for people on their teams to socialize and get to know one another.
Such a culture also helps satisfy a basic evolutionary human need for deep affiliations, as illustrated by our historical tribal roots connected to social, safety, and survival needs.
Despite the above, only two in 10 employees strongly agree that they have a best friend at work. Moving this ratio to six in 10, could reduce safety incidents by 36%, and increase customer engagement by 7%, and profits by 12%.
One of the foundational attributes to support a culture of belonging is ensuring that managers and leaders have what medical anthropologist Geri-Ann Galanti called "cultural competence." While the term originally related to patient care for diverse populations, it now has firm roots in the effort to create a sense of belonging in all organizational settings. From this perspective, the concept is focused on enhancing leader and manager awareness and the ability to care for others through an appreciation of the differences in people and cultures and the unique opportunities and challenges for both. The concept also requires a high level of personal reflection and self-awareness.
Culturally competent managers recognize and appreciate the differences in the people that report to them and subsequently take an individualized, but collective approach to weaving together a beautiful quilt of diversity and a sense of belonging on their teams.
They create an environment of "in it together." Being culturally competent also helps guard against hiring in your likeness, a practice that is most comfortable to the less self-aware manager.
As research supports, when organizations foster a sense of belonging for diverse thinkers and people of different backgrounds and experiences, they benefit from improved talent attraction, retention, engagement, innovation, and enhanced individual, team, and organizational performance.
Even though more people are working remotely than ever before, the desire to be part of a group never goes away. Humans come to life when they feel needed, wanted, valued and appreciated by the people around them. Although the tools may be digital, the goal of great leaders remains the same — helping teams bond together in service of a greater purpose.

Louis Efron is a Principal at Gallup.
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