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Company culture

Workplace Hierarchy of Needs: Fostering belonging at work through great communication

February 22, 2023

Building a culture where recognition and appreciation happen organically doesn't happen overnight—nor is it a top-down process. Leaders and employees all equally play a role in how culture is defined, how it plays out daily, and how that culture evolves.

This is the third part of our Workplace Hierarchy of Needs series. We're breaking down what successful organizations do right to create a happy and fulfilled workforce.

Building a culture where recognition and appreciation happen organically doesn't happen overnight—nor is it a top-down process. Leaders and employees all equally play a role in how culture is defined, how it plays out daily, and how that culture evolves.

In our first post of this series, we looked at the foundational elements an organization needs to have, so employees feel engaged and connected to their work. Moving from there, our second post provided eight things organizations need to make employees feel safe at work.

As your organization meets these needs, you can strengthen your workplace culture by fostering a sense of belonging. This post will explore what belonging means, why it's essential, and how you can create a workplace where everyone belongs.

What does it mean to have a sense of belonging at work?

Whether in school, at home, or at work, we all need to feel like we belong. This sense of belonging impacts everything from well-being to motivation to productivity. 

Belonging means feeling connected, accepted, and valued by others. In the workplace context, ensuring that every employee feels a sense of belonging is crucial to building a sustainable culture and a successful business. According to research from Deloitte, a strong sense of belonging can lead to the following:

  • 56% increase in job performance

  • 50% reduction in turnover risk

  • 167% increase in employer net promoter score

  • 75% decrease in sick days.

Creating a strong sense of belonging can enhance job satisfaction, engagement, and retention while reducing stress, turnover, and absenteeism. When employees feel a sense of belonging, they are more likely to collaborate, communicate openly, and innovate. 

Even more important, a diverse and inclusive workplace culture that fosters a sense of belonging can lead to better decision-making, problem-solving, and creativity, as employees with different backgrounds and perspectives, bring unique ideas and insights to the table. 

Our "Safety in the workplace" post looked at what leaders must do to create a sense of safety at work. The tactics range from physical safety aspects, such as having a joint health and safety committee and properly functioning office furniture and equipment, to psychological and emotional safety, where employees feel safe to be their authentic selves.

Once you have a solid footing with physical and psychological safety in the workplace, the next step is to build upon that with a robust set of internal communication tools. We're not talking about having a shared drive with a bunch of Google docs.

Creating belonging through communication

Like any successful relationship, professional relationships are built on solid communication. When it comes to organizational communication, the focus is often on the messaging sent out to customers, partners, and vendors. Internal communications—or internal comms—are critical. Still, leaders often don't prioritize building an internal comms process that supports the organization and helps create a sense of belonging among its employees. 

What are internal comms and who owns them?

Internal comms are the tools, policies, and processes that foster open communication across teams and throughout the organization.

Every organization will have a different person or team to manage internal communication. Regardless of an organization's size, it's essential to identify who owns the development of your internal comms program and how and when communication goes out to the team.

Three pillars of excellent internal communications

Done poorly, internal communication can cause confusion, dissatisfaction, and strife within an organization. Here are our three pillars of excellent internal communication:

  • Valuable: There's no one definition of what's valuable. Each organization will have its own set of news, insights, and updates that are used for internal communications. Start by asking your leadership and your employees what they need to know. There'll be some overlap and, most likely, some gaps where your team can dig deeper to discover what information is pertinent and timely to ensure your team can get their work done successfully.

  • Consistent: Whether it's a Monday morning memo or a Friday afternoon wrap-up, it's critical to send internal communication out on a consistent schedule. The impact of your comms can be diminished if employees feel it's an afterthought instead of a core piece of your culture. It's also essential to have a set schedule. Sending out a weekly update—whether on a chat platform like Slack or via email—is a great cadence, to begin with.

  • Open: There will always be some things that can't be shared with your entire team, but internal communications must be as open and transparent as possible. Ensuring that there's a way for employees to ask questions—both anonymously and by name—will help to create the sense of belonging you are working to develop.

How to manage internal communications in remote and physical locations

Conversations around the importance of belonging started long before the pandemic shifted how and where teams work. As organizations navigate remote, in-person, or hybrid workplace changes, fostering a sense of belonging is even more critical. 

Tools like Slack and Teams have enabled organizations to create a community regardless of where people work. Irrespective of your organization type, having transparent policies on how employees use internal comms channels can help keep them honest and open.

Setting restrictions on what topics are allowed on internal comms channels can often backfire and cause some employees to feel restricted in what they can say. A good rule of thumb is to remind employees that, like social media, what's said on internal channels is public and forever. If you wouldn't say it to someone's face, don't say it on Slack.

Physical locations provide excellent opportunities for posting flyers and notices in public areas, but doing so can exclude remote and hybrid employees. The best practice is to use these spaces for internal-only information like potlucks or other office activities. Any notice that needs to be communicated to all employees should be sent via email or posted on an internal messaging board or service.

How to use internal comms to measure belonging at work

Your internal comm channels are also a way to measure belonging in your workplace. While it's difficult to find a quantitative measurement of belonging, your internal comms channels provide two ways to do a qualitative measurement of your employees' sense of belonging in the workplace.

  1. Use your internal channels to perform a quarterly gauge of employee well-being and sense of belonging. Use a tool that enables employees to remain anonymous to ensure you get honest feedback.

  2. Have your managers look at how their team engages and uses your internal channels. If a team or employee avoids using the channels, it could be a sign of disengagement or frustration that could be explored further.

How to level up from belonging to appreciation

Providing consistent, valuable, and open communication is critical to creating a sense of belonging in your workplace. This is just the beginning though—building belonging also involves consistently performing 1:1 meetings, performance reviews, and all-hand meetings that have the same level of openness as your internal comms.

Once you've grown a culture where people feel like they truly belong, you arrive at the time when you can up your employee appreciation game. The critical thing here is to continue your work of being intentional by providing personalized recognition gifts. Gift cards are great, but generic gifts have a lower impact than ones that demonstrate you value them as unique individuals.

Personalized recognition can further amplify your employees’ sense of belonging and understanding that you—their employer—truly care about them, not just the work they do.

In our next post, we'll look at how organizations can take this sense of belonging and understanding and use the feedback to evolve their business.

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