Creating a Sense of Belonging For your Employees
Knowing where to invest culture dollars should be your #1 priority

Creating a Sense of Belonging For your Employees

Were you ever the “new kid?”

Any of us who moved in elementary school know exactly what that feels like. You are coming into a new situation where everyone else already has friends, knows where the bathrooms are, and knows which teachers are nice and which are mean.

That first lunch period can be terrifying. Everyone else seems to be at home and you are the outsider. This situation causes many of us physical pain in the pit of our stomach. Each of us has a deep human desire to belong.

That feeling as a child is the same feeling as starting a new job as an adult. All your new coworkers know the culture, know who is nice and who is cranky, and — yes, know where the bathrooms are.

Belonging is more than just knowing the office layout. It is when everyone on your team feels included in the culture. Everyone is pulling the same direction, everyone’s opinions are valued, no one is on the outside looking in.

Unfortunately, having belonging at the workplace is becoming rare. A study by the Harvard Business Review found 40% of employees feel isolated at work, and that research was done before the pandemic. The subsequent rise in remote work will only make the problem worse.

Fostering a sense of belonging is not only a good way to make a great workplace, it also will boost productivity. To quote the HBR research, “High belonging was linked to a whopping 56% increase in job performance, a 50% drop in turnover risk, and a 75% reduction in sick days. For a 10,000-person company, this would result in annual savings of more than $52M.”

Belonging Starts with Physical Space

The first step to creating a sense of belonging starts with physical space. This could either be the office itself, for companies where in-person work has resumed, or if the company is still remote, then the virtual space.

For in-person settings, you want to stick to an open-floor plan to promote mingling and connection between employees. It is crucial to provide spaces for collaboration. A common area with comfortable furniture and good coffee would be perfect and encourage employees to connect.

For virtual settings the space has to be created differently. Encourage connection with video chat platforms like Zoom or Google Meet. One way to make the virtual office feel more welcoming is to use video meetings to talk casually, not just to hold meetings.

Make Your Culture Welcoming

The company’s culture is the most important part of creating a sense of belonging. People should feel at home and comfortable with their coworkers. This doesn’t mean that everyone has to hang out on the weekends, but it does mean that everyone should be approachable and open to feedback. The first time a new employee speaks up and has their opinion shot down will give them that “new kid” pit in their stomach just like elementary school.

Company traditions are another key element that can either foster belonging or isolate people. Throwing a big holiday party might seem like a fun idea, but remember that not all your employees might celebrate the same holidays. That does not mean you shouldn’t still have a fun party, but just make sure the party includes everyone and doesn’t isolate a subset of your employee base.

At Whistle, one of the things we believe in is the democratization of culture budgets. Rather than having one or a few people decide culture for everyone, distribute a cash budget down the org chart. Let the managers who know employees personally decide the best way to spend the culture dollars.

It All Depends on People the Top

Leadership set the culture tone for the whole company. Leaders should be approachable and open to conversation. A great way to do this is to have open Q&A sessions with senior leadership.

If your company does have activities like ice breakers, game nights, or happy hours, the company’s leaders should attend and participate. In addition to all the other hats they wear for the company, it is also important for them to be the social mixer who talks to the wallflowers and gets them involved in the company activity. Don’t let the new person eat lunch by themselves.

In many ways, the company leaders are like micro-celebrities. If there is an employee who is being treated like an outsider, a leader can go out of their way to include that person or give them a shout-out at the company meeting. That simple act will spread across the organization.

Conclusion

Creating a sense of belonging for your employees is not easy, but it is important if you want to retain top talent and inspire your team. Start with the physical space, create a culture that is open to everyone, and make sure your leaders are walking the walk. Belonging can have a major impact on company productivity and it is worth the effort to make it a priority.

WHISTLE, THE EMPLOYEE LOYALTY APP

There are many factors that influence employee loyalty but Whistle is the first employee loyalty app specifically designed for that purpose. By leveraging Whistle and integrating with other programs, Whistle can help companies improve both their top and bottom line.

In a recent case study, Whistle helped a manufacturing company reduce turnover by 26% in just 90 days through a redesigned onboarding program. Whistle’s employee loyalty app brought the company’s on-boarding process into the digital age and put it in every employee’s pocket. Employees raved about the mobile-first experience and cash reward system. 

Companies are using Whistle to help people-managers improve relationships with their direct reports, rethinking incentives and rewards, and even changing their approach to culture – building a more inclusive workplace and helping to attract quality candidates.

Contact us for a free demo and better understand how much you can improve employee loyalty when using an employee loyalty app!

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