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Belonging Part 1: Making a Case for Cultivating Connections at Work

Many organizations today recognize the urgency of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB). However, establishing a culture of inclusion can be daunting when the workplace relies on hybrid work.

As the divisions between people widen due to the pandemic and recent political events, already exacerbated by technology, my enthusiasm for forming work cultures centering on belongingness — an element essential for DEI initiatives — has only grown.

This four-part series starts with an examination of why belonging is essential. Part one of this series digs deeper into this concept by defining it and exploring its significance.

What Is Belonging?

Before we can create a connected environment in our workplaces, we must first agree on a definition of it.

John Powell, Executive Director of the Othering and Belonging Institute at UC Berkley, defines belonging as “more than having just access; it means having a meaningful voice and the opportunity to participate in political and social design and cultural structures. Belonging includes the right to both contribute and make demands upon society and political institutions.”

Belongingness, as others have said, is a state of intimacy felt in relationships with those within a particular group. It also involves the ability to show up authentically in any space.

However, Powell prompts us to imagine a society that shares power and respects all voices during conversations that shape our culture — moving beyond our organizational structures with his definition of belonging. If we use this lens in our workplaces today, many of our challenges to overcome inequity will diminish.

Why Should Belonging Matter?

According to the U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory on the Healing Effects of Social Connection and Community report, people spend less time alone with friends. In 2003, 15 to 24-year-olds spent 150 minutes daily with their buddies, but in 2020 they only spent 40 minutes.

The report also states that the COVID-19 crisis has further decreased interpersonal interaction. For example, in 2021, only 49% of people who weren’t lonely or isolated had three or more close contacts, a decrease from 90% in 1990. Additionally, one study found that individuals had 16% fewer contacts between June 2019 and June 2020. A decreased risk of early death is associated with strong social ties and feeling connected to others but, sadly, many people suffer from chronic loneliness and feelings of alienation at epidemic proportions.

All of us want to belong. It’s a natural desire, a fundamental part of being human. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs puts belonging and connectedness at the pinnacle of our psychological needs. Belonging is just as essential as food, shelter, and love, and is necessary for people to reach a state of self-actualization. Clearly, when we don’t experience a sense of belonging in our lives, this can lead to negative consequences. Since we spend most of our daily lives as workforce members, we must prioritize belonging.

Belonging in the Workplace, a Topic Worth Exploring

Have you ever wondered why some employees stay with a company for what seems like an eternity while others leave their companies suddenly?

Feeling accepted and valued is the key to determining why workers stay with a company or choose to move on.

A recent Deloitte study revealed that organizations with a culture that values inclusivity and a sense of belonging for their employees were twice as likely to meet financial goals, three times as successful overall, six times more likely to show innovation and agility, and eight times more successful in achieving desired business results.

Studies have also indicated that creating a culture of belonging and increasing psychological safety will be the most reliable factor in building effective teams. Notably, 93% of people belonging to Generation Z believe feeling like they belong at work is essential (they constitute roughly 20% of the US workforce). All employees can be engaged and productive, regardless of physical location, by unifying the team.

Where Do We Begin

The advantages of feeling a strong sense of connection and safety in the workplace are indisputable. To achieve this, leaders must engage in frequent, meaningful dialogue with their employees, in-person and remote workers alike, while setting clear objectives and an overarching purpose. By doing so, they can craft a new approach to centering belonging in the workplace.

Here are the steps how:

1. Promote a workplace where everyone thrives.

2. Make belonging an organizational priority.

3. Embed a sense of belonging into your work culture.

Questions to Ponder:

What does it mean to belong? What have you done to make relationships in your work environment? What progress have you made, and what difficulties have come up?

Keep an eye out for Part 2 of this series, which will explore the unique challenges of cultivating a sense of belonging in hybrid workspaces.

Shakima “Kima” Tozay is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker whose government career spans over 15 years, beginning in the U.S. Navy. Kima has dedicated her career to serving the military community in various roles across diverse settings and agencies.  Her current position is as a Medical Social Worker serving Veterans. She is also a Social Work doctoral student at the University of Alabama. Kima is a Certified Diversity Professional (CDP®). She also holds certifications in Executive Leadership from Graduate School, USA, and a certificate from Stanford University in Leveraging Diversity and Inclusion for Organizational Excellence. Connect with Kima on LinkedIn.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

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