At a time when attracting and keeping talent is extremely challenging, employee commitment is vital. Leaving aside issues of inclusion, for hard-headed business reasons alone organizational belonging is a human resource priority.
Building human capital in an organization is not just a question of development and training or hiring qualified new talent. It is also about the loyalty of current employees and keeping them. Beyond offering flexible working opportunities and revising compensation packages, companies need to create ‘sticky’ workplaces, where employees are listened to, their concerns addressed, and a sense of community is fostered.
Even with organizations adopting flat management structures, not everyone can or should participate in every meeting—mindful exclusion is a necessary part of day-to-day working practice. Yet to maximize workplace performance it is important that everyone, including new hires and part-time workers, feels they belong.
While leaders and managers will be focused on helping employees acquire new capabilities, improve their business literacy, and anticipate the potential opportunities of AI, they should also pay attention to that fundamental driver of employee engagement—a feeling of belonging. The feeling by employees and managers of acceptance and respect for who they are and what they have to say, which enhances employee commitment, intention to stay, and ultimately performance.
Using the definition, “experiencing an acknowledgment of one’s talents, interests and experiences, and finding whole acceptance of one’s self-expression of these,” a new study from professors Gary Blau and Daniel Goldberg at Temple University’s Fox Business School, along with SWK Technologies’ Diana Kyser, identifies four key factors affecting organizational belonging—Be Myself; Acceptance; Diversity Valued; and Connection.
Each of these factors can be used by managers and HR professionals to measure levels of belonging, with a view to taking remedial action where necessary, noting that after controlling for demographic and organizational variables the researchers found that Be Myself had a significant impact on productivity and Acceptance had a significant impact on intent to stay.
The study was based on anonymous Qualtrics surveys of employees and managers at two large US firms (one tech firm and one accountancy practice). Over twenty factors were initially considered, but through eliminating overlap these were boiled down to four:
Be Myself: Allowing employees to be their authentic selves and express their opinions, however contradictory, without fear of retribution. Survey participants made statements such as “knowing my feedback is heard (good or bad) from my manager” and “I feel my voice and opinions are sought out.”
Acceptance: Finding whole acceptance of one’s self-expression. Those surveyed made statements including “I feel that I am included and involved in things that help the company be successful” and “having a voice in our wonderful caring community regardless of position.”
Diversity Valued: A workplace culture where people believe everyone can succeed to their full potential, no matter who they are. Statements were made such as “there is a culture of mutual respect” and “a culture that encourages open communication and collaboration.”
Connection: A downside of remote or hybrid work is that people can feel less connected to the company’s mission, to the company’s leaders and to their team. Survey participants said such things as: “we are all in it together, one voice!” and “I like the fact that the people I interact with look after one another.”
Analyzing the link between the four factors and two key outcomes—productivity and intent to stay—the researchers found that all four had a positive impact, with Be Myself having the most impact on Productivity and Acceptance having the most impact on Intent to Stay.
Demographic variables (gender, race, age, etc.) and organizational variables (length of tenure, job level/role) were shown in the data to have only a slight, though significant, effect. For example, men tended to score higher than women on Acceptance and Diversity Valued, and managers tended to rate higher than workers on Be Myself and Connection. Perhaps more surprisingly, correlating demographic and organizational variables to outcomes, the study found that people in non-management roles perceived themselves as more productive and had a higher intent to stay than managers.
In view of the great difficulty faced by many organizations today in not only hiring additional employees but retaining their existing staff, the value of this study is evident. Increasing employees’ feelings of belonging and creating ‘sticky’ workplaces should be key HR goals—whether employees work in-person, remotely or a hybrid mix of the two. Providing a means for measuring organizational belonging can facilitate this.
Access the full research paper: ‘Organizational Belonging: Proposing a New Scale and Its Relationship to Demographic, Organization, and Outcome’. Gary Blau, Daniel Goldberg, and Diana Kyser. Journal of Workplace Behavioral Health (February 2023): https://doi.org/10.1080/15555240.2023.2178448