THE VALUE OF ACTIVE INCLUSION AND BELONGING IN THE WORKPLACE
Humans have an innate need to BELONG either through the medium of a family, neighborhood, community or nation. The need for “social belonging” is a proven scientific fact and a is hard-wired into our DNA and genetic composition (Baumeister, 1995). In fact, scientific studies have shown that people who were from childhood involved in group activities, were much more social and productive members of their community and sought places of employment where the culture of active inclusion of employees was encouraged, implemented and nourished.
This undeniable need to be part of something larger than one own’s immediate personal and psychological boundaries, extends to the realm of employment, where a vast majority of our time as humans are spent. Regardless of the particular employer, the sense of belonging (or active inclusion) in the workplace is a fundamental need that warrants priority and attention by Human Resources departments and management teams. A recent study conducted by Harvard Business Review buttressed this point by stating the following, “Forty percent of people state that they feel isolated at work and the result has been lower organizational commitment and engagement. Despite US companies spending a staggering $8 billion dollars in 2019 on Diversity and Inclusion training and development programs for their respective work force, 40% of employees who participated in the survey stated that their companies neglected their needs to feel included.” Regrettably, “belonging and active inclusion” is an oft-neglected topic of conversation in the realm of diversity and inclusion conversation and training.
Exclusion in the workplace, carries deleterious effects both to the employees and to the overall success and well being of the company. Evidence shows that workplace exclusion causes tangible and measurable adverse consequences to team performance. It seems that workers are more isolated than ever, and a UK based study showed that more than one-third of employees report no strong relationships at work. Since adults spend about one-quarter of their lives at work, this lack of inclusion can have quite a negative and lasting impact on the individual. This exclusion and lack of belonging ultimately contributes to an increased likelihood of job dissatisfaction and, eventually, to leaving the organization (Good.co Team, 2017).
With the above in mind, how does one optimally define the words of “Active Inclusion and Belonging”? In the context of the workplace, Active Inclusion and Belonging are defined as the following:
MATTERING: The employee MATTERS to the company and has a sense of purpose in contributing to objectives that are of higher import than just clocking in and receiving a pay-check. They have a sense of purpose that their work is furthering a noble initiative and their involvement is an integral part of the process of advancing their company’s aims.
IDENTIFICATION: The employees form part of their IDENTITY by belonging to and contributing to the image and face of the company. They are proud to identify themselves with said company as it makes its mark upon the world of work. For example, employees that work for companies that contribute to their local or global communities in charitable or other ways, feel a sense of empowerment and enjoy identifying themselves with a noble endeavor.
SOCIAL CONNECTION: Employees who are actively included in the furtherance of their company’s objectives and are frequently asked for input from fellow employees, and management, feel a sense of CONNECTION with both their fellow employees and management. When relationships are positive in the workplace, a kind of synergy and kinship happens that ultimately leads to a productive, collaborative and collegial workplace.
The grave consequence of not being actively included in the workplace is a hefty price of talent exodus OR the inability to attract top-flight talent due to the company’s reputation for its unhealthy or exclusionary culture. Inversely, once employees have been given a sense of belonging and active inclusion, companies generate outsized benefits. Some eye-popping statistics that are a testament to the value of active inclusion and belonging according to the Harvard Business Journal are as follows:
56% increase in job performance,
50% drop in turnover risk,
75% reduction in sick days.
For a ten thousand person company, this would consequent in annual savings of more than $52M dollars!!! Moreover, employees with higher work place belonging also demonstrated a 167% increase in employee promoter score and their willingness to recommend their companies to others. They also received double the raises and 18 times more promotions.
Since the evidence shows that creating a workplace culture of active inclusion and belonging yields such positive results, can an exclusionary workplace environment be reversed to one that places a premium on active inclusion and a sense of belonging? Fortunately, the response is a resounding YES! This environmental shift occurs only when management teams are aligned in bringing about this radical change for the better. This reversal may be accomplished via the following intra-company programs:
Employee Empowerment and Acknowledgment programs – Employees who are acknowledged for superb work via intra-company modes of communication report feeling included, empowered and motivated.
Mentorship and Apprenticeship programs – New employees are assigned tenured employees who serve as mentors and facilitators assisting them in, among other things, blending in the company culture, which results in feelings of belonging.
In sum, for companies who are intent on maximizing their opportunities of not only attracting top-tier talent, but also retaining their existing talent, it behooves them to instill a culture of active inclusion and belonging. Even if management has gone to great lengths to hire a diverse work force, that effort will ring hallow if the diverse employees’ innate sense of belonging to something bigger than themselves is neglected. The clarion call to employers is embracing the value of belonging. The employees’ need to belong to their company’s mission and culture must be an ever-present goal to be fulfilled by companies’ management teams and HR departments.