As the human race evolves, our lifestyles become more and more at odds with how we, as creatures, evolved over millions of years. Over the last year, the distance between our ancestral and modern selves took another great leap, and it’s one that has implications for the workplace.

One well-known example of how our lifestyle is in conflict with our evolutionary selves is in terms of daily activity. Early humans, for example, covered miles and miles each day, hunting and foraging for food. Our increasingly sedentary lifestyles are in direct conflict with how we homo sapiens evolved.

The Covid-19 pandemic has ushered in another change that widens the distance between how we evolved and how we live today. Humans are also tribal creatures – our lack of fangs, swiftness, and exoskeletons required us to band together for protection and sustenance, giving rise to the first communities of human beings. Our tribal instincts are hardwired in our DNA.

Just as technology has made us more sedentary, the pandemic resulted in another great leap away from our ancestral roots and instincts almost overnight, when many people started working from home.

Webinar: Welcome to the Era of Belonging

Listen in for an in-depth discussion of why a sense of belonging is so important within the workplace at this moment, and how to develop belonging within your workplace.

“We are forced to contradict our social nature in separation, rapidly learning new habits of avoiding passing people on the pavement, long-term separation from family, no hugs from friends or matey kitchen-huddle with colleagues,” Isabel Collins notes in her article for entitled How to Uphold Belonging When We are Forced to Stay Apart? 

“Belonging is so deep-wired in us that it was taken for granted until it was taken away. Our isolation over the last year has taught us a great deal about our primal human need to connect, to belong to a group.”

Just as we counter the effects of our sedentary modern lifestyles by going to the gym and obsessively measuring our daily steps on our fitness trackers, we need to actively counter the effects of the isolation remote work poses.

As we noted earlier, loneliness was on the rise even before the pandemic. A strategy leaders can use to stem that tide is creating a sense of belonging amongst the organisations’ employees.

The importance of belonging at work 

Belonging at work isn’t a new concept. In fact, it’s been proven to be remarkably beneficial in the workplace. Companies that create a sense of belonging enjoy substantial gains. According to the recent article in Harvard Business Review titled “The Value of Belonging at Work,” high belonging has been linked to:

  • 56% increase in job performance
  • 50% reduction in turnover risk
  • 75% reduction in sick days.

For organisations focusing on diversity, equity, and inclusion, creating a sense of belonging amongst employees is vital, especially for developing a truly inclusive company culture. One cannot be included where one doesn’t feel one belongs.

Creating a sense of belonging 

The underlying factors that contribute to a sense of belonging are not new, and are, in fact, factors that also drive an employee’s engagement, such as:

  • The belief that the company and your manager care about your wellbeing,
  • Trust in your manager and support from your manager and colleagues,
  • Feeling your contributions are valued,
  • Feeling comfortable you can bring your whole, authentic self to work,
  • The belief your feedback is valued,
  • Feeling part of a community,
  • The belief that the organisation values diversity and treats everyone fairly,
  • Believing in the company’s purpose, and that your role can make an impact.

When the employee experience aligns with the elements listed above, a sense of belonging will be high.

However, the challenge for employers is in actually creating an environment that results in employees perceiving, feeling, and believing they are valued, supported, trusted, and cared for. Saying a person’s feedback is valued is one thing. Making them feel their feedback is something entirely different.

The journey toward creating a culture of belonging has four important steps:

  • Acceptance. Accept that leaders are unlikely to have a clear understanding of how employees are feeling without asking them directly. This is not the time to act upon assumptions.
  • Understand. Understand how your team feels about the elements listed above, and how the pandemic has impacted them – truly. Seek the truth by asking them directly – using surveys, round table meetings, etc – so you are operating from a position of certainty.
  • Respond. Respond to your findings to build trust and accountability with the team. Let them know they have been heard.
  • Act. Act where it will make a real difference. Armed with the truth, take focused action and begin to resolve the challenges employees are experiencing.

To aid leaders in laying the foundation for a culture of belonging, Engagement Multiplier has developed a concept called “The People Charter.” The process of creating your organisation’s People Charter, along with its output, will usher leaders through the Understand, Respond and Act steps with ease. You can download our new guide “Creating Your Organisations’ People Charter” here.