It seems you can’t read an article about employee engagement without running into a reference to belonging, and for good reason. Defined as “the feeling of security and support when there is a sense of acceptance, inclusion, and identity for a member of a certain group or place,” belonging is top of mind for employees for two key reasons: the renewed focus on diversity and inclusion in the workplace, and the impact that working from home has had on many individuals, inculcating feelings of isolation and loneliness. Because of this, we’re naming it a top 2021 employee engagement trend.

The underlying drivers that create a sense of belonging are not new, and are, in fact, factors that also drive an employee’s general engagement, including:

  • The belief that the company and one’s manager care about the individual’s wellbeing,
  • Trust in one’s manager to support them,
  • Feeling their work and contributions are valued,
  • The company values employee feedback,
  • The workplace values diversity in all its forms
  • Individuals are treated fairly and equally
  • Genuine regard for (and by) one’s colleagues.

What is new is the emphasis being placed this year on the sense of belonging these elements combine to create, and how that impacts an employee’s overall experience, as well as the emphasis placed on these elements by employees.  Together, they inculcate a sense of belonging, which is crucially important in organizations that have been stressed by furloughs, lay-offs, and remote working.

Geopolitical forces outside the walls of our workplaces – including the racial strife in the US that made headlines worldwide during the summer of 2020, and the seismic shift to working from home the pandemic triggered – have sharpened the focus on diversity, inclusion, and equality in the workplace, with the isolation of working from home making the work experience intensely personal for many employees.

This collective sense of belonging is likely missing from many employers’ radar screens. In recent years past, engagement factors such as support for career growth and development were a high priority, driven in part by a red-hot job market.

Overlooking what could be considered “softer” elements of engagement, however, would be a grave mistake. Leaders who prioritize the creation of inclusive and welcoming environments, and successfully train company managers to support and sustain that sense of belonging will be rewarded with higher employee engagement and its many bottom-line benefits, while also becoming an employer of choice.

“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.” – Qualtrics, Belonging: The new top driver of employee engagement in 2021

If an organization is paying attention to the core elements of employee engagement, a sense of belonging should already exist.  However, according to Deloitte, while 79% of the companies they surveyed agree that fostering a sense of belonging is important for their success, very few companies – just 13% – say they are very ready to address this trend.

Especially for large organizations with a highly varied team, delivering holistically on the engagement drivers that create a sense of belonging can be a real challenge. However, there is one driver for belonging that even huge teams that span the globe can embrace, and that is purpose.

Purpose and a sense of belonging

Purpose can contribute mightily toward creating a sense of belonging, by creating the powerful context of shared goals, and providing an outlet for employees to contribute meaningfully to the social good – whatever their role within the company.

“Organizational efforts to foster belonging have historically and primarily focused on making every individual feel respected and treated fairly in an inclusive work environment. While this remains foundational, leading organizations are forging a stronger link between belonging and organizational performance by strengthening workers’ connections with their teams and fostering their sense of contribution to meaningful shared goals.” Deloitte, Belonging: From comfort to connection to contribution

According to our founder, Stefan Wissenbach, a clear, shared purpose has a connecting effect within the business, creating common context and understanding. “Everyone in the business feels connected to and excited by the organization’s ultimate purpose, goals and how the business will achieve them,” he states in his book, the Engaged Organization.

If your organization hasn’t defined its purpose, or, if upon reflection, the purpose rings hollow, seize the moment to establish a new purpose at the heart of your company.

“This moment in history provides an opportunity, and a spur, for all organizations to ground themselves in their purpose — that is, to focus intensely on the core questions: Why do we exist? Why are we here? Whose needs are we here to meet?” Deloitte, In a crisis, companies must know their purpose 

Put purpose at the heart of your organization, and you will build a foundation for a healthy culture that will create that crucial set of shared values and a sense of belonging that aligns and motivates teams.

White Paper: The Era of Belonging

Workers are looking for an increased sense of support and inclusion in the workplace and to aid in that, we’ve released a white paper on belonging in the workplace. Learn why belonging is so vitally important for businesses to thrive and how to develop it in your organisation. Download our white paper “The Era of Belonging” here.