2021 is the first time we’ve seen a real change in employee engagement trends, and it’s no wonder, given the experiences 2020 brought us.

One expansive trend leaders need to be aware of is the increasing importance employees are placing upon “a sense of belonging” in the workplace.

While it’s not a new concept, the events of last year – both in terms of racial strife and the isolation many are experiencing as they work from home – underscore why a sense of belonging has rocketed to the top of employees’ desires.

A good place to start when delving into the concept of workplace belonging is an article published by the Harvard Business Review in late 2019, titled “The Value of Belonging at Work.” The article highlights the element that is missing from so much diversity and inclusion training, namely, the very human need to actually feel included. The article also provides stats that quantify the cost of exclusion:

“If workers feel like they belong, companies reap substantial bottom-line benefits. 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.

“Employees with higher workplace belonging also showed a 167% increase in their employer promoter score (their willingness to recommend their company to others). They also received double the raises and 18 times more promotions.”

Belonging: The New Top Driver of Employee Engagement in 2021 explains why belonging has become such an important consideration for employees this year. Importantly, the article also explains the impact a sense of belonging has on employee engagement:

“Belonging is also highly correlated to engagement. According to our research, only 20% of employees who feel they don’t belong are engaged versus 91% of those who feel they do – that’s three and a half times more. A sense of belonging not only meets your employees’ basic needs, it inspires their work and drives better business results.”

The good news for leaders is that the drivers of belonging comprise the engagement fundamentals we already know about, such as support from one’s manager, concern for employee wellbeing, and the freedom to be themselves at work. The article notes:

“This is about getting the basics right. Treating employees with respect, taking action on their feedback, and recognizing their contributions are ways to show employees that they matter. We cannot expect employees to be well, let alone thrive, in a toxic workplace.”

In Belonging – From comfort to connection to contribution, the team at Deloitte caution that many employers they’ve surveyed say are unprepared to address the trend around employee belonging. The article breaks down the exogenous forces that are contributing to diminished inclusiveness and belonging, and offers advice for leaders to address these issues within their workplaces:

“Our view is that creating a sense of belonging at work is the outcome of three mutually reinforcing attributes. Workers should feel comfortable at work, including being treated fairly and respected by their colleagues. They should feel connected to the people they work with and the teams they are part of. And they should feel that they contribute to meaningful work outcomes—understanding how their unique strengths are helping their teams and organizations achieve common goals.

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