How to Increase Employee Engagement by Creating a Culture of Belonging

by Anca Dumitru - March 12, 2018

In a fast changing business landscape, where only 15% of employees worldwide feel engaged in their jobs, while the other 85% are functioning below their potential, it’s obvious that organizations need to make a massive shift in how they create workplace cultures that increase employee engagement and maximize performance development.

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Culture should be the number one priority in running a business. When people enter a new organization, they wonder whether they will belong. Whether there’s a place for them to feel welcomed, safe, respected and valued. Add to that purpose and allowing them to trust one another – that leads to human emotion, empathy and compassion.

But why do companies lack belonging? They simply don’t pay attention to the person. Caring and putting people first are missing.

As Maya Angelou powerfully put it: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

So let’s have a look at what gives people a sense of belonging at work and how the feeling of belonging correlates with engagement at the workplace.

Cultivate Empathy and Understanding

Empathy is the foundation of everything great in life.

Empathy is putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and understanding how their feelings can affect their behavior and motivation. Research shows that empathy is positively related to job performance. Managers who show more empathy receive consistently higher job performance ratings.

Simon Sinek, author of Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t, believes that empathy is the most important instrument in a leader’s toolbox. He explains that putting the well-being of others first has a compounding and mutual effect in workplace relationships, and gives managers the capacity to enlist employees in a shared vision by allowing them to achieve their full potential.

VaynerMedia’s CEO Gary Vaynerchuk is one of the business leaders and entrepreneurs who attributes his business and personal success to his innate empathy and self-awareness. His entrepreneurial tendencies were apparent since he was a child. He opened six lemonade stands at 7, made $2,000 a weekend as a 12-year old selling baseball cards, and grew his father’s wine business, after his college graduation, from $3 million to $60 million in five years with no marketing budget. All that before co-founding VaynerMedia, an 800-head digital agency, with his younger brother AJ.

Ensure Open and Honest 2-Way Communication

Communication is one of the most important pillars of creating strong human relations.

Moreover, encouraging an open and honest communication within an organization has a tremendous impact on engagement and business results.

Building employee engagement through two-way communication ensures people are both listened to and kept in the loop with what’s happening in the organization. Feedback can be informal and formal. The constantly changing technology can be used to create systems that foster input and allow businesses to reach their people in ways that suit them.

Ensuring that existing communication channels are used or new ones are created to encourage dialogue makes people feel that they matter. When employees get prompt feedback from their managers, they know their ideas are valued, and that makes them more engaged and committed to their job.

Bring People Together Geographically

More and more companies these days work with distributed teams all around the world. The number of apps available to connect online has led many organizations to embrace remote working or working from home.

But nothing beats in-person collaboration and meetings. Many distributed teams across the globe consider in-person annual retreats a vital tool from the perspective of building strong work relationships, employee engagement, and a harmonious everyday work life.

Buffer’s CEO Joel Gascoigne sees the company’s retreats as an essential part of the work he does together with his team. They are rather aimed at long-term productivity and meaningful connection among the team members. And, ultimately, he believes that the real purpose of retreats, besides him providing leadership, setting vision and creating alignment, is to listen.

Create a Diverse and Inclusive Environment

According to Deloitte’s 2017 Global Human Capital Trends study, the leading organizations see diversity and inclusion as a comprehensive strategy intertwined into every aspect of the talent life cycle to increase employee engagement, improve brand, and drive performance.

The study shows that almost 70% of the polled executives (up from 59% in 2014) consider diversity and inclusion (D&I) an important issue.

Former CHRO at LinkedIn Pat Wadors explored the D&I concept both as a leader and a woman in a male-dominated industry. She realized that what was missing from the conversation was the organic need of belonging.
A diverse and inclusive environment may take different forms across cultures, but the need for a sense of belonging at the workplace is universal.
Belonging matters not only because people can be their authentic selves within a safe environment, but it empowers them to perform, ensuring their success and development.

Take Work Seriously and Integrate Play

While taking your work seriously is important, burnout is a big threat for employees who work in environments that are not enjoyable.

Happiness, on the other hand, makes people productive. Happy employees are 12% more productive than unhappy ones. They are more loyal and committed to the organization they work for. That means less turnover and sick days.

Therefore, integrating fun into work is important for many reasons. It can be a major stress reliever, creates balance and provides a healthy sense of purpose and accomplishment. Sustaining employee engagement and motivation through play also brings a sense of camaraderie at the workplace.

The startups trend of creating fun-friendly work environments has inspired major companies to do the same. Mastercard boosts employees’ morale by offering all sorts of perks, such as conference rooms with piles of Legos, video-game machines and foosball tables.

Foster Innovation and Publicly Value Employee Success and Contributions

Another crucial aspect in employee engagement is fostering innovation.

Philips Lighting conducted a series of workshops to help the company identify its traditional current and future values to build alignment around a new, more innovative culture. Four cultural values – Pioneering, Caring, Fast, and External Focus – have been encompassed into a common manifesto to help the company empower teams and rapidly innovate.

Also, a recent LinkedIn survey of over 6,000 global professionals notes that 59% of the subjects were recognized for their accomplishments. In addition to that, 51% had opportunities to express opinions freely, and another 50% felt their contributions in team meetings were valued. All these things made them feel like they belong.
Being recognized for their contributions and celebrating successes are important for the employees’ morale. It shows them they are acknowledged for doing a great job.

Over to you

What other ways of making people feel that they belong do you know or have you experienced in your organization? How are you increasing employee engagement in your company? Sound off below in the comments!

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