Do you feel like you belong at work? Or do you waste time worrying about why you don’t fit in? With rates of loneliness on the rise in many workplaces, it’s clear that policies on diversity and inclusion are only taking us so far. The challenge now is to help people believe that they are valued and essential members of their teams.
“While diversity is what makes us each unique, our differences can be polarizing and create all sorts of challenges in workplaces despite the many benefits it brings,” explained Pat Wadors, Chief Talent Officer at ServiceNow, when I interviewed her recently. “And while policies of inclusion can ensure everyone is invited to the dance, it’s a sense of belonging that allows workers to feel safe, valued, and seen.”
The truth is that we’re wired with a need for belonging. Researchers have found that when you don’t have a sense of belonging you can feel threatened and spend your energy in masking or pretending that you’re something you’re not, rather than applying your energy in more positive ways to learning, innovation, creativity, and growth. Some studies have even suggested that belonging and attachment to a group of coworkers is a better motivator for some employees than money.
Pat explained that when your workplace has a healthy environment that reinforces trust, compassion, respect, and understanding, you’re confident that you can be authentic and vulnerable at work, you feel energetic, and there’s comradeship and engagement with your colleagues. You feel psychologically safe, which opens up the willingness to seek out and understand other’s opinions rather than jumping to conclusions.
“Of course treating people with respect and compassion doesn’t mean you need to say yes to everything,” cautioned Pat. “You can still give tough news but do this in a respectful, caring way. You’re transparent and open, give context for your decisions, and look for alternative ways to support them.”
The good news is that cultures of belonging can be created in micro-moments of interactions each day. For example, Pat suggested trying:
- Telling belonging stories – we all have a moment when we feel we didn’t belong, and also when we did belong. What’s your magical moment? When you share your belonging story, you give others the chance to get to know you better, build a sense of connection, and help people understand more about what belonging entails. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.
- Sharing gratitude – connect to the humanity in your team by starting your staff meetings asking each person to share what they’re grateful for on either a personal or professional level. If it’s a professional gratitude focus on other teams, not your own, and consider sending a gratitude note after the meeting. Or if it’s personal gratitude use this as an opportunity to understand others more deeply, and to see them for who they are, and not just for what they do.
- Helping your people grow – mentor and coach your people to unlock their strengths and passions – their superpowers – so that they can show up at their best. Have career conversations that empower them to think beyond their current role, and what you can do to help them explore, develop their skills, and grow. Democratize learning for every employee in your organization so they can put their unique superpowers to work. For example, at ServiceNow, every employee has free access to LinkedIn Learning to cultivate their curiosity and rejuvenate their energy.
- Leading with curiosity – rather than being critical, make an effort to be constructive and curious. When you adopt a growth mindset, you can view mistakes and failures as feedback loops and an opportunity to learn and grow. This can give your people permission to stretch outside their comfort zone even if it doesn’t all go to plan, to slow down discussions when they need to make sense of the feedback being given to them, and to have their say as they’re processing information.
Encouraging honest debates can help you create a more psychologically safe environment. Practicing active listening that seeks to understand other people’s points of view, can help protect your team from confirmation bias and jumping to conclusions. Playing the devil’s advocate or running through worse case scenarios can also help ensure you’re thinking of everything holistically. And considering what voices aren’t being heard in this conversation and how you can solicit their feedback can add more mix to the dialogue and feel more inclusive.
What can you do to create more belonging in your team?