Belonging in the Workplace: What Does It Mean and Why Does It Matter?

TONY BOND

Author

TONY BOND

Author

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Image: Employees at Certified great place to work, Vizient.

Belonging is vital to performance, innovation and retention, and starts with executive commitment.

Belonging is one of the biggest buzzwords in business today.

It’s about time.

Generations of company executives turned a blind eye to how well people – that is, people of diverse backgrounds – fit in with their culture.

But it’s been impossible to deny the importance of belonging in recent years. Social justice movements such as #metoo and #BlackLivesMatter have elevated matters of diversity, equity and inclusion.

The pandemic and the Great Resignation have also made creating a culture of belonging more critical than ever – not just for employee well-being but for business success.

Great Place To Work® has been studying workplace belonging for many years. Here’s what we’ve found.

What is belonging in the workplace?

Belonging in the workplace is an employee’s sense that their uniqueness is accepted and even treasured by their organization and colleagues. Belonging is an accumulation of day-to-day experiences that enables a person to feel safe and bring their full, unique self to work.

Belonging is not simply that employees feel appreciated for the work they do or the role they play in the organization – belonging runs deeper.

Employees who feel treated as an “insider,” and are encouraged to retain their uniqueness within the workgroup, feel a high level of belonging.

This means valuing the various components of an employee’s identity, such as being a parent, being of a particular race or being of a particular sexual orientation. In this sense, belonging is a close cousin to diversity, and inclusion.

Belonging is an employee’s sense that their uniqueness is accepted and even treasured by their organization and colleagues.

Diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance and belonging is dancing like nobody’s watching, because that’s how free you feel to be yourself.

Belonging at work builds on the work of psychologist Abraham Maslow and his hierarchy of needs. For Maslow and other researchers, the need for belonging and love sits in the middle of the pyramid of human needs, above basic physical needs but required before reaching the peak human need of “self-actualization.”

Why is a sense of belonging at work important?

Belonging in the workplace matters because it impacts business performance and employee well-being. Belonging is necessary for bringing out the best of everyone at work.

If employees don’t experience a sense of belonging, they are more likely to feel insecure about their place in the organization and feel less freedom to be their authentic selves. And that insecurity– that fear – undermines their performance, their creativity and their ability and willingness to collaborate.

Our research reveals that when employees experience belonging in the workplace they are:

  • 3 times more likely to feel people look forward to coming to work
  • 3 times more likely to say their workplace is fun
  • 9 times more likely to believe people are treated fairly regardless of their race
  • 5 times more likely to want to stay at their company a long time

At Great Place To Work, we’ve coined the term “For All workplace” to describe workplaces that are consistently great for all their employees – no matter who they are or what they do for the organization.

For All™ workplaces are organizations where diverse employees feel they belong. And our research shows that For All workplaces grow revenue more than three times faster than their less-inclusive rivals.

A culture of belonging is also critical for retaining employees during the Great Resignation.

Common sense suggests people will leave a place where they don’t feel they belong, but many employers are missing this point: recent research shows that a sense of belonging is one of the top three most important reasons employees give for leaving their job. But belonging didn’t crack the top 10 reasons given by employers.

A sense of belonging is one of the top three most important reasons employees give for leaving their job.

How do you measure belonging in the workplace?

Measuring belonging in the workplace requires access to reliable and quantitative employee experience data; it cannot be based on qualitative feedback alone.

“A sense of belonging is something so personal and sensitive that it’s very hard to get meaningful feedback unless people feel very sure that it’s safe for them to be honest,” says Eliot Bush, culture coach at Great Place To Work.

Measuring belonging through confidential, third-party employee surveys can reassure employees to share open and honest feedback about their employee experience.

“Qualitative feedback can be helpful, but running focus groups or soliciting anonymous feedback isn’t a suitable replacement for a survey,” says Eliot. “You need something objective to work off of, or else you’ll never be sure you’re going in the right direction.”

It’s also a lot harder to get buy-in from leaders when you don’t have hard data, because leaders may question the validity of qualitative results. This is especially true when you’re working on something like belonging in the workplace, and you’re specifi

Is your organization doing enough to foster a sense of belonging?

As the market for top talent continues to tighten, more and more leaders have started to ask whether they’ve done everything in their power to help employees feel a sense of belonging.

It’s about time.

Measure and track belonging in your workplace

Do you have a workplace where people feel they belong? Get Certified™ to show job seekers that you’ve created a great culture.

TONY BOND

Tony Bond is the executive vice president, chief diversity and innovation officer of Great Place to Work®. A strategist, innovator and facilitator, Tony has served as a trusted advisor to executives at some of the most successful global organizations. He has deep expertise in innovation, diversity, equity and inclusion, and in organizational trends for thriving in the future. His expertise is backed by over 20 years of leading complex business units of a Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For®.

The data science behind this list from Great Place To Work®

Great Place To Work® has been surveying employees around the world about their workplace experiences for 30 years. We have developed a set of themes and metrics that not only predict whether employees feel their workplace is great, but predict retention, agility, and overall business success.  

Using our proprietary Trust Index™ survey, we measure the core of what we know creates great workplaces — key behaviors that drive trust in management, connection with colleagues, and loyalty to the company.  

The survey enables employees to share confidential quantitative and qualitative feedback about their organization’s culture by responding to 60 statements on a five-point scale and answering two open-ended questions.

Employees tell us whether leaders are accessible, communicate honestly and clearly, and if their actions match their words. They tell us whether they feel respected as individuals, if they receive training benefits, appreciation, support for their well-being and opportunities to contribute. They tell us whether they believe their company is fair related to pay, profits, promotions, recognition, favoritism and opportunities. They tell us if they are proud of their work, their team, and their company, and if they feel they make a difference and their work is meaningful. And they tell us whether they enjoy the people they work with, feel cared for and can be themselves.  

List rankings are based on this employee feedback, which we analyze to determine the extent to which this experience is shared by the full workforce. Great Place To Work measures the differences in survey responses across demographic groups and roles within each organization to assess both the quality and consistency of the employee experience. Statements are weighted according to their relevance in describing the most important aspects of an equitable workplace. 

The best companies create great work experiences not just for management, but also for their part-time employees on the front lines, for those who’ve just joined and those who’ve spent their whole career there, for every race and ethnicity, gender, neurotype, or other demographic in the organization – we look at it all. Companies with the broadest set of employees who report positive workplace experience receive the highest rankings on lists.

In addition to analyzing employee feedback, for National List’s for companies in the Medium and Large size categories, we also consider what a company can tell us about their programs and workplace strategy. Each company also answers six essay questions that provide greater insight into how, and why the organization is great for all people. Responses are rigorously evaluated and cross-reviewed according to Great Place To Work’s research-driven criteria. From what companies share in datapoints and essays, we identify the organizations that offer the most generous, caring and innovative cultures that reflect a genuine commitment to meet the diversity of their people’s needs inside and outside the workplace as validated by what employees themselves report in survey results.
Where an industry list is being revealed (i.e. Healthcare, Technology) additional information provided from an organization in the form of a culture audit will not be considered; rather we analyze employee feedback from the Trust Index survey with the above methodology.

Because employee feedback drives these rankings, surveys must meet strict requirements for how they are distributed and the percentage of employees who respond to ensure they accurately represent honest feedback from the company’s full population. To be eligible for the list, companies must be Great Place To Work Certified™, have 10 or more employees in the country they are being Certified, and be operating in the industry relevant to a specific Industry list if applicable (i.e. Healthcare, Technology). If categories are being listed within a National list, category break downs are as follows: Companies with 10-29 people were considered for the Micro category; those with 30 to 99 people for the Small category; companies with 100 to 999 employees were considered for the Medium category; and those with 1,000 or more for the Large category. Some lists in certain countries may combine categories in which case that will be specified in the list breakdown.
While essay responses provide important context for rankings, only survey data can garner a list placement.

The data science behind this list from Great Place To Work®

Great Place To Work® has been surveying employees around the world about their workplace experiences for 30 years. We have developed a set of themes and metrics that not only predict whether employees feel their workplace is great, but predict retention, agility, and overall business success.  

Using our proprietary Trust Index™ survey, we measure the core of what we know creates great workplaces — key behaviors that drive trust in management, connection with colleagues, and loyalty to the company.  

The survey enables employees to share confidential quantitative and qualitative feedback about their organization’s culture by responding to 60 statements on a five-point scale and answering two open-ended questions.

Employees tell us whether leaders are accessible, communicate honestly and clearly, and if their actions match their words. They tell us whether they feel respected as individuals, if they receive training benefits, appreciation, support for their well-being and opportunities to contribute. They tell us whether they believe their company is fair related to pay, profits, promotions, recognition, favoritism and opportunities. They tell us if they are proud of their work, their team, and their company, and if they feel they make a difference and their work is meaningful. And they tell us whether they enjoy the people they work with, feel cared for and can be themselves.  

List rankings are based on this employee feedback, which we analyze to determine the extent to which this experience is shared by the full workforce. Great Place To Work measures the differences in survey responses across demographic groups and roles within each organization to assess both the quality and consistency of the employee experience. Statements are weighted according to their relevance in describing the most important aspects of an equitable workplace. 

The best companies create great work experiences not just for management, but also for their part-time employees on the front lines, for those who’ve just joined and those who’ve spent their whole career there, for every race and ethnicity, gender, neurotype, or other demographic in the organization – we look at it all. Companies with the broadest set of employees who report positive workplace experience receive the highest rankings on lists.

In addition to analyzing employee feedback, for National List’s for companies in the Medium and Large size categories, we also consider what a company can tell us about their programs and workplace strategy. Each company also answers six essay questions that provide greater insight into how, and why the organization is great for all people. Responses are rigorously evaluated and cross-reviewed according to Great Place To Work’s research-driven criteria. From what companies share in datapoints and essays, we identify the organizations that offer the most generous, caring and innovative cultures that reflect a genuine commitment to meet the diversity of their people’s needs inside and outside the workplace as validated by what employees themselves report in survey results.
Where an industry list is being revealed (i.e. Healthcare, Technology) additional information provided from an organization in the form of a culture audit will not be considered; rather we analyze employee feedback from the Trust Index survey with the above methodology.

Because employee feedback drives these rankings, surveys must meet strict requirements for how they are distributed and the percentage of employees who respond to ensure they accurately represent honest feedback from the company’s full population. To be eligible for the list, companies must be Great Place To Work Certified™, have 10 or more employees in the country they are being Certified, and be operating in the industry relevant to a specific Industry list if applicable (i.e. Healthcare, Technology). If categories are being listed within a National list, category break downs are as follows: Companies with 10-29 people were considered for the Micro category; those with 30 to 99 people for the Small category; companies with 100 to 999 employees were considered for the Medium category; and those with 1,000 or more for the Large category. Some lists in certain countries may combine categories in which case that will be specified in the list breakdown.
While essay responses provide important context for rankings, only survey data can garner a list placement.

The data science behind this list from Great Place To Work®

Great Place To Work® has been surveying employees around the world about their workplace experiences for 30 years. We have developed a set of themes and metrics that not only predict whether employees feel their workplace is great, but predict retention, agility, and overall business success.  

Using our proprietary Trust Index™ survey, we measure the core of what we know creates great workplaces — key behaviors that drive trust in management, connection with colleagues, and loyalty to the company.  

The survey enables employees to share confidential quantitative and qualitative feedback about their organization’s culture by responding to 60 statements on a five-point scale and answering two open-ended questions.

Employees tell us whether leaders are accessible, communicate honestly and clearly, and if their actions match their words. They tell us whether they feel respected as individuals, if they receive training benefits, appreciation, support for their well-being and opportunities to contribute. They tell us whether they believe their company is fair related to pay, profits, promotions, recognition, favoritism and opportunities. They tell us if they are proud of their work, their team, and their company, and if they feel they make a difference and their work is meaningful. And they tell us whether they enjoy the people they work with, feel cared for and can be themselves.  

List rankings are based on this employee feedback, which we analyze to determine the extent to which this experience is shared by the full workforce. Great Place To Work measures the differences in survey responses across demographic groups and roles within each organization to assess both the quality and consistency of the employee experience. Statements are weighted according to their relevance in describing the most important aspects of an equitable workplace. 

The best companies create great work experiences not just for management, but also for their part-time employees on the front lines, for those who’ve just joined and those who’ve spent their whole career there, for every race and ethnicity, gender, neurotype, or other demographic in the organization – we look at it all. Companies with the broadest set of employees who report positive workplace experience receive the highest rankings on lists.

In addition to analyzing employee feedback, for National List’s for companies in the Medium and Large size categories, we also consider what a company can tell us about their programs and workplace strategy. Each company also answers six essay questions that provide greater insight into how, and why the organization is great for all people. Responses are rigorously evaluated and cross-reviewed according to Great Place To Work’s research-driven criteria. From what companies share in datapoints and essays, we identify the organizations that offer the most generous, caring and innovative cultures that reflect a genuine commitment to meet the diversity of their people’s needs inside and outside the workplace as validated by what employees themselves report in survey results.
Where an industry list is being revealed (i.e. Healthcare, Technology) additional information provided from an organization in the form of a culture audit will not be considered; rather we analyze employee feedback from the Trust Index survey with the above methodology.

Because employee feedback drives these rankings, surveys must meet strict requirements for how they are distributed and the percentage of employees who respond to ensure they accurately represent honest feedback from the company’s full population. To be eligible for the list, companies must be Great Place To Work Certified™, have 10 or more employees in the country they are being Certified, and be operating in the industry relevant to a specific Industry list if applicable (i.e. Healthcare, Technology). If categories are being listed within a National list, category break downs are as follows: Companies with 10-29 people were considered for the Micro category; those with 30 to 99 people for the Small category; companies with 100 to 999 employees were considered for the Medium category; and those with 1,000 or more for the Large category. Some lists in certain countries may combine categories in which case that will be specified in the list breakdown.
While essay responses provide important context for rankings, only survey data can garner a list placement.