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5 ways to build Belonging at work

Acknowledged as a key pillar in Maslow’s 1950s hierarchy of needs model, the need for love and belonging isn’t new. It’s as old as humankind itself – giving us the felt sense that we are welcomed and accepted within a group. 

Everyone wants this kind of connection in their workplace so it’s no surprise that the term is now being weaved into the DEI agenda. But while diversity, equity, and inclusion are required to foster belonging, belonging can’t be declared by an organisation. It is ultimately up to employees to express, “I feel I belong here.”

I believe that if we get our DEI efforts right, belonging will follow. To achieve this, we need to look critically right across our DEI strategy, through the eyes of our people.  Below are my top tips to get you started.

1. Build psychological safety

Psychological safety is fostered in teams.  It’s the belief that you won’t be shunned for sharing an alternate view, and that your colleagues will have your back.  It’s fundamental to everyone’s sense of belonging at work, and essential when there’s complexity, uncertainty or tasks that require people to work together.

Action: If you’re a leader, build trust with your team members and actively support them in 1-1 conversations and group settings.  If you’re a team member, give your colleagues space to speak and value their perspectives, providing positive reinforcement through comments like “that’s a great idea, I hadn’t thought of that!” or “I’d love to build on that further”.

2. Use inclusive language

I’m often taken aback by the language I hear in organisations, usually in reference to people or groups of people. This possibly comes from a lack of awareness, but also a lack of personal responsibility to grow understanding and adapt accordingly. To change this, it’s critical that organisations build a strong culture where people can call out non-inclusive language without fear of retribution.

Action: Build your understanding of inclusive language by researching reputable sources, and asking people how they would like to be referred to. Then role-model this at work and speak up in support of others if required.

3. Understand and manage your biases

Everyone has unconscious biases – they are influenced by a range of factors including our experiences, desire for safety and the way our brains work. But without understanding and managing our biases, it can be difficult to see the world from others’ points of view, which can create divides that limit belonging in organisations.

Action: Identify common biases that occur at work and put in place strategies to help you manage them. Start slowing down when making decisions and speaking to people with different views so you can question your default ways of thinking.  And embed bias conversations into your workplace – meetings, hiring processes and talent conversations are great places to start.

4. Have inclusive meetings and conversations

One of the most important work relationships is between a leader and their direct report, and the conversations we have with our managers are key to our sense of belonging.  With meetings a prime environment for team brainstorms and decision making, it’s critical that those environments are set up so everyone feels comfortable to share their views.

Action: Spend time getting to know your team members and colleagues; ask them to share what they’re willing to share about their strengths and experiences.  In meetings, agree on how you will operate as a team, including how you’ll deal with disagreements, and ensure everyone has a chance to contribute.

5. Hold inclusive gatherings

Gatherings at work happen all the time, whether it’s a team lunch or an informal chat over the water cooler. Yet we often don’t put much thought into considering individual needs in these occasions.  This is not to say everything must suit everyone all the time, but rather to ask people what works for them and have a range of options so everyone can participate as much as possible.

Action: Consider all aspects of your social gatherings, including the time of day, location, choice of food or drink options, or indeed what’s being celebrated, and ensure they accommodate for a broad range of needs and preferences.

Interested in delving deeper into these topics? I have extensive expertise in DEI and Belonging and have a host of tools that will breathe new life into these crucial facets of your business. Feel free to reach out to me at robin@robindaviesconsulting.co.nz – I’d love to hear from you.

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