4 Ways to Create a Sense of Belonging in the Workplace

diverse team meeting

For many people, a sense of community, belonging, and support in the workplace is crucial to job satisfaction. APA’s 2023 workforce survey found that 94% of respondents report feeling that they belong is very or somewhat important. Thus, cultivating a sense of belonging is crucial for high-functioning and positive work environments.


Our recent Global Workforce of the Future report shed some light on a key finding: workers are more often 'pushed' out of their jobs than they actively seek new opportunities. Unsurprisingly, only 13% of those planning to leave cited receiving a better offer as their reason for departure. Our research identified the following as the most prevalent factors:


  • Salary (cited by 45% of workers)
  • Prioritization of work/life balance (mentioned by 35%)
  • Access to upskilling and career advancement prospects (noted by 34%)


This led us to wonder whether a sense of belonging in the workplace could mitigate the importance of these other, more significant factors. We conducted two polls on LinkedIn, gathering insights from approximately 12,000 respondents to gauge what contributes to a feeling of belonging at work. Continue reading to discover four ways to inspire a sense of belonging in employees.


First - make everyone feel heard and seen


Despite significant progress on DEI in the workplace, many workers still feel as if they don’t totally “belong” in their organization. Employees can still feel like outsiders in their own workplace, causing feelings of discomfort and dissatisfaction. In the long run, these feelings can result in painful and negative experiences, prompting workers to become distracted and suppress the parts of themselves that thrive in a positive work environment.


These distractions can result in a lack of focus and hinder successful performance, further reinforcing the feeling of being an outsider. It’s important then, for employers to actively encourage and value diverse skill sets and unique perspectives in the workplace. Regular check-ins and support should be provided to demonstrate care for all employees. In meetings and team gatherings, foster an environment where everyone feels their voice will be heard and opinions valued.


Flexibility breeds loyalty


Throughout 2020, the global pandemic forced a significant portion of the population (around 17.4%) to work from home. This tested the trust between employers and their employees. Employee monitoring software sales skyrocketed by over 1,700% as employers began tracking employee locations, monitoring desktop activities, and even counting keystrokes. A Gartner study revealed that 61% of managers increased their check-ins with employees to measure performance, indicating a lack of trust in their people's decision-making abilities for the business.


The rise in tracking and monitoring practices left workers feeling micromanaged and stripped of their autonomy—challenges that are still being felt today. Additionally, remote and hybrid workers often felt vulnerable and left behind, as 44% of respondents believed that having flexibility in their work arrangements was crucial for their sense of belonging. Granting workers more flexibility in terms of where, when, and how they work can help restore their sense of control and security.


However, flexibility should not only focus on hours and location; it should also include demonstrating a trust in employees' capabilities and allowing for a reasonable level of autonomy. By loosening their grip on control, managers can alleviate strain and signal trust, ultimately helping employees, particularly remote ones, feel seen, understood, accepted, and, ultimately, like they belong.


People first


One comment from our LinkedIn poll highlighted the importance of “fostering a culture of trust to support mental well-being”. And coincidentally, research indicates that more autonomy at work leads to better psychological well-being. This is key, as our research shows that nearly half of global workers (49%) are concerned about experiencing burnout in the future.


Employers who prioritize creating a sense of belonging avoid treating employees like mere numbers on a spreadsheet. As one respondent pointed out, "People are more than just numbers and more important than the bottom line."


A strong leader is one who recognizes this as fundamental human nature—humans want to be treated like… humans. Valued, appreciated, and heard. Good managers will focus on cultivating human connection and even share their own vulnerabilities to bring about better alignment with their employees. But a culture of belonging isn't only focused on celebrating successes—it is also championed during the challenging times. One participant mentioned feeling the strongest sense of belonging when their efforts: wins, losses, or low moments are recognized and converted into positive learning experiences.


It all comes down to culture


Let's consider a different perspective, shared by one of our poll respondents: "I don't belong to any employer; they belong to me and my coworkers who contribute to the culture."


What if we shift the paradigm and view it, not as workers belonging to their workplace, but rather the workplace and its culture belonging to the workers? Employers can establish mission statements and core values, but it’s the workers who bring them to life. A company's culture is a dynamic entity shaped by the diverse personalities that contribute to it. It is ever-evolving and alive.


So, what implications does this have for companies and managers? Perhaps, instead of trying to exert control, a good manager knows when to let go. Rather than molding and controlling the company culture, companies should recognize that there is a culture that already exists and tap into it. It’s their people, after all, who have the best understanding of the way things work, from the ground up.


When managers and employees openly communicate their concerns, solutions are more likely to be found in a way that is organic and focused on the human aspect. Remember the previous discussion about tracking versus trust issues? In the right environment, tracking can be seen as a valuable tool. According to a study by Gartner, 96% of digital workers would welcome task tracking if it comes with better IT support to enhance their workflow. When monitoring serves a shared purpose, it is no longer an issue of trust.


Every workplace has its unique thinkers. Creating an environment where each personality is met with equal consideration and reasonable accommodations is key to maintaining balance. Ultimately, a workplace culture should be one where everyone feels comfortable contributing to the whole, and voicing their unique thoughts, while still feeling a sense of belonging.


At LHH, our mission is to achieve a continuously evolving work environment in which all individuals feel valued, supported, and respected. Contact an LHH expert today to learn more about how we can help you achieve your own DEI ambitions.