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:
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?