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Best Practices: Building a Culture of Belonging Requires a Strong Foundation

08/02/2023

In today's diverse and inclusive workplace, fostering a culture of belonging is crucial for organizational success. When employees feel valued, respected, and included, they are more engaged, productive, and committed to their work. Educating employees about building a culture of belonging is an essential step towards creating an inclusive environment. In this blog post, we explore some best practices to help organizations effectively educate their employees on fostering a sense of belonging.

What is Belonging?

Before we dive in, we should acknowledge that belonging centers around the employee experience of feeling accepted in the workplace. Every, and we mean EVERY team member should feel that their perspective is valued and adds something useful. The return to the organization can be tremendous. Belonging can lead to a 56% increase in job performance, a 50% reduction in turnover risk, a 167% increase in employer net promoter score, 2X more employee raises, 18X more employee promotions, and a 75% decrease in sick days.

Belonging to a team implies a sense of value—that an employee is needed and wanted. There are several elements that not only contribute to belonging but also foster feelings of belonging, and these include the following:

  1. Managers provide fair feedback.
  2. Employees feel safe.
  3. Social bonds are encouraged with trust and respect across the organization.
  4. Direct communication is preferred.
  5. Pay equity is the norm or efforts exist to address gaps.
  6. Employee benefits are well distributed.

As you can see, the workplace is a cauldron of issues affecting the workforce. When we talk about belonging, we’re not only focused on race and ethnicity, but also gender, religion and sexual orientation and many other issues that impact the entire workforce. 

Best Practices for Establishing a Belonging Culture

This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but building a culture of inclusion and belonging begins with senior leadership buy-in and commitment. Leaders must recognize the importance of inclusivity and actively champion it within the organization. Interestingly, employees recognize the difference between their immediate manager, senior leadership, and their organization as a whole. Whereas 81% of employees surveyed by Kanarys agree their immediate manager demonstrates having an inclusive team is a key component of success, about 76% of employees surveyed by Kanarys believe this to be true of their senior leadership. By leading by example, executives and managers set the tone for the rest of the workforce. Encourage leaders to participate in diversity and inclusion training, workshops, and initiatives to develop their understanding of the subject matter and to become effective advocates for inclusion.

Another best practice around educating employees about building a culture of belonging is to implement comprehensive inclusion training programs. Kanarys found that 67% of employees feel that their organization has done a good job providing training and education programs that promote diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. These programs should address topics such as unconscious bias, cultural competency, allyship, and microaggressions. Microaggressions can be particularly damaging. One study found that 7 in 10 workers said they would be upset by a microaggression and half said the action would make them consider leaving their job. Provide both in-person and online training options to accommodate different learning styles and schedules. Use case studies, real-life examples, and interactive exercises to make the training engaging and practical. Consider bringing in external experts to provide specialized training sessions.

You’ve heard this before, but communication matters. Creating a culture of belonging involves fostering open dialogue and providing platforms for employees to express their thoughts and experiences. Encourage employees to engage in respectful conversations about diversity, inclusion, and belonging. Also, establishing employee resource groups (ERGs) that focus on different aspects of diversity, such as race, gender, LGBTQ+ inclusion, and disability provide a safe space for employees to connect, share experiences, and contribute to a more inclusive workplace.

To put a finer point on communication, language, and in particular, words matter. To create a truly inclusive culture, it’s critical to examine how people across the company are using language. Educating employees about the power of language and communication in creating an inclusive environment including establishing guidelines on using inclusive language that avoids stereotypes, assumptions, or offensive terminology. Encourage employees to respect preferred pronouns and to avoid making assumptions based on appearance or personal characteristics. And any effective communication requires active listening. Train employees on active listening and effective communication techniques, emphasizing the importance of empathy and understanding.

To foster cross-cultural awareness and learning, employees must have appreciation and respect for different perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences. Companies can proactively offer opportunities for employees to learn about various cultures, traditions, and customs such as organizing cultural celebrations, workshops, or lunch and learn sessions where employees can share their cultural experiences. Even more important, encourage employees to participate in cross-cultural mentorship programs, fostering relationships that promote understanding and inclusion. There’s always room for everyone to improve their ability to recognize and celebrate the uniqueness of each individual. 

Gauging Impact and Outcomes

While we provided some best practices around belonging, none of this matters without proper measurement, which goes hand-in-hand with a corresponding action plan. You can implement various initiatives and ideas, but data and metrics ensure companies are meeting their goals which provide the feedback necessary to improve and ensure the impact of these initiatives. 

To put a finer point, measuring belonging in the workplace requires access to reliable and quantitative employee experience data, and cannot be based on qualitative feedback alone. In fact, measuring belonging through confidential, third-party employee surveys can reassure employees to share open and honest feedback about their employee experience.

Educating employees on building a culture of belonging is an ongoing journey that requires commitment, resources, and continuous learning. By implementing these best practices along with metrics, organizations can empower their employees to contribute to an inclusive and welcoming workplace environment. Remember, fostering a culture of belonging is not only the responsibility of HR or leadership, but also requires the active participation and engagement of every employee. Together, we can create workplaces where everyone feels valued, respected, and a true sense of belonging.


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