15 Key Elements Required to Activate Belonging at Work

To help you activate a genuine sense of belonging among your employees in the workplace, we asked HR and people managers this question for their best insights. From building a culture of sharing to allowing for self-expression, there are several things that are pointed out as the key elements required to effectively activate belonging in the workplace.

Here are 15 key elements these leaders employ to activate belonging at work:

  • Build a Culture of Sharing
  • Onboard Employees in a Behavior Culture of Safety and Trust
  • Foster Personal Bonds Between Employees and Leadership
  • Close Inclusion Gaps
  • Start With Self-Awareness
  • Build Strong Cross-Functional Relationships in the Workplace
  • Ensure Psychological Safety for Employees
  • Offer One-on-One Coaching for all Employees
  • Provide Regular Inspirational Talks
  • Recognize Successes Collectively
  • Form Employee-Led Groups
  • Recognize Employee Achievements Often
  • Cultivate Respect for Each Other
  • Mentorship-a Key Element to Activate Belonging
  • Allow for Self-expression

Build a Culture of Sharing 

Humans are social beings, wired to connect and share experiences with one another in similar situations. Without feeling, and oftentimes, seeing a connection to an organization's purpose and mission, many feel disconnected from their work and their peers. Recent research tells us that our current workforce, especially the Millenial and Generation Z workforce, are yearning for a sense of connection - where they feel the organization and their leaders are invested in their succession, know their career goals, and want to help them contribute to the social and environmental causes and issues they value and support.

When coworkers feel this connection and have a sense of relatedness, they are more likely to feel engaged and create a sense of engagement among those around them. Belonging is rooted in connection and when organizations are transparent in how they promote this connection and investment in their workforce, belonging is the ultimate byproduct.

Stacy Berg Jackson, CEO and Executive Coach at SBJ Consulting, Inc.

Onboard Employees in a Behavior Culture of Safety and Trust

Belonging is an emotional state that develops when employees build respectful and helpful relationships with supervisors and co-workers. Critical is how expectations around behavior forms and impacts an employee's roles, goals, and relationship success.  

Our company’s group research validates principles required for belonging, for a high-performance workforce. The six principles are trust, interdependence, genuineness, empathy, risk, and success. When behaviors support these six principles and are required of everyone at all levels of operation, belonging develops because the workplace feels safe, employees feel respected, helpful relationships form, financial security concerns are met and there is pride in the organization. Each of these factors have emotional attachments. Taking the time to behavior onboard employees into the workplace builds belonging. Just like trust, belonging develops when words support actions over time.

Dianne Crampton, President of TIGERS Success Series

Foster Personal Bonds Between Employees and Leadership

In order to feel that sense of belonging we all crave at work, leadership needs to view and accept the whole person - understanding their personal link to the mission/values and allowing a safe space for the sharing of personal likes, dislikes and hardships. Since the 19th century there is documentation linking a great work environment to family connection, community and history/values. To think of work as a simple exchange of "time + expertise = $$" is unfulfilling and mentally unhealthy.

Giving all employees a chance to bond personally with their highest stakeholders (whether that is founders at a start-up or cross-departmental heads of business at larger companies) allows new hires and seasoned workers to have personal and grounded connections to leaders several layers above their manager.

Briann Baker, Head of People at Hallow

Close Inclusion Gaps

An inclusion gap occurs when specific groups of people experience the workplace differently from the majority. Employers need to identify who are their at-risk groups and what are the inclusion gaps preventing them to feel a sense of belonging. With this information, they are able to build focused policies and initiatives that close those inclusion gaps and help activate belonging in the workplace for everyone.

Simone Missagia, Marketing Director of Pulsely Limited


Start With Self-Awareness

I think it's easy for company leaders to think about benefits and workplace perks to boost belonging. While that certainly can help, I always encourage leaders to start with self-awareness. Who are you? What are your biases? Are you taking time daily to reflect on your practices? Being self-aware is foundational when prioritizing belonging in the workplace.

Tamara Dias, Director of Culture and Client Partnerships at Perfeqta

Build Strong Cross-Functional Relationships in the Workplace

Individuals who have opportunities to form robust, cross-functional relationships in the workplace are the ones most likely to feel a sense of belonging. One of the worst things leaders can do is silo their people within defined parameters. Silos are breeding grounds for backstabbing, unhealthy competition, and a host of other practices not conducive to productivity and longevity. Rather, encourage inter-team engagement both formally and informally. Could be as simple as starting a meeting by having everyone go over one non-business-related update, you'll be amazed the effect this has on boosting morale and camaraderie.

Abraham Cho, Executive Recruiter at Govig & Associates

Ensure Psychological Safety for Employees

In order to feel a sense of belonging, employees need to feel safe (both psychologically and emotionally) in their environment, which means that they are heard, respected, and welcome as their authentic selves. Issues such as workplace misconduct, harassment, and discrimination, which are frequent in remote, hybrid and in-person workplaces, can hurt a culture of belonging. An environment of safety will immediately disappear, and therefore be detrimental to that sense of belonging. It’s critical that organizations offer opportunities, processes, policies, and tools that ensure employees are truly heard, valued, and respected, all while knowing that should an incident arise, it will be resolved quickly (i.e., faster than the national average of 25-30 days). Establishing a safe and healthy work culture where employees are heard will ensure a sense of belonging, community, and culture, boosting productivity and overall performance. At the end of the day, who doesn't want to belong?

Jared Pope, Founder and CEO of Work Shield 

Offer One-on-One Coaching for all Employees

Creating an inclusive culture doesn’t end with integrating diversity and inclusion philosophies or conducting a diversity training or two. Instead, companies must adapt, embrace and foster methods that create a sense of belonging, so all employees feel included. One way to achieve this is through one-on-one coaching for all employees — regardless of seniority or department. Individual coaching helps companies develop and grow a diverse and inclusive culture that incorporates the key aspects of belongingness and uniqueness. It helps everyone in the organization reflect on their own unique traits and perspectives, understand how to communicate and live those traits, and integrate that uniqueness into the workplace.

Kristin Turner, Head of People, North America, at CoachHub

Provide Regular Inspirational Talks

Regular inspirational talks spark a sense of belonging in the workplace. Listening to straightforward and positive stories from different job levels can powerfully fill that emotional need for connectedness with others. Discovering a colleague’s or a leader’s story of overcoming workplace challenges, achieving their dream roles, or fitting in with the culture can motivate each one to face various workplace concerns head-on. We at Webris hold engaging town hall sessions. A portion of the program features employees who share remarkable stories about their recent projects and work experiences that mirror our company culture of dynamic and friendly collaborations with every stakeholder.

Ryan Stewart, Managing Partner of Webris

Recognize Successes Collectively

One way to help foster a sense of belonging in the workplace is to recognize and celebrate successes collectively, rather than just reserving praise and recognition for behind-the-scenes. When coworkers have the chance to not only see their fellow team members succeeding, but also participate in publicly recognizing each other, it easily strengthens bonds. These stronger bonds go a long way in fostering belonging because everyone feels like they’re a part of something bigger than themselves and are taking an active role in supporting each other in the workplace.

Mark Pierce, CEO of Cloud Peak Law Group

Form Employee-Led Groups

Employee-led groups help people with similar backgrounds or interests come together. They can be a powerful tool to ensure everyone feels included and has their place in the workplace. These groups can be based on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, or shared interests such as yoga or meditation. Employees can use these groups to make meaningful connections with others within their organization. Leaders should also be encouraged to join these groups to give them influence and legitimacy. Cultivating a workplace where everyone feels a sense of belonging is a collective process where everyone should be expected to play their part.

Dean Kaplan, CEO of The Kaplan Group

Recognize Employee Achievements Often 

When employees are recognized for things that they do, it makes them feel seen and truly part of a team. Recognition comes in all forms. At Compt, we offer a team recognition stipend so people can reward their peers with a little cash as thanks for helping them on a project or for simply being a wonderful coworker. It's important to note that it's less about the monetary aspect and more about someone noticing the behavior and giving positive feedback. We encourage people to recognize each other regularly and meaningfully in ways the recipient prefers acknowledgment. For some, this comes during a 1 on 1 meeting and for others, this is publicly displayed in a Slack channel we have dedicated to celebrating one another. For leaders at a company, it's especially helpful when you recognize how an employee's work lends to the bigger picture. Pointing out how they help the team as a whole or the company goals overall demonstrate how they play a vital role in the business's success.

Joe Alim, Head of Product and Customer Experience of Compt

Cultivate Respect for Each Other

We build for belonging daily. Our mindset, behaviors, and action either build belonging, or fuel exclusion. One of the best ways to foster belonging is to show colleagues respect -- respect for their identities, backgrounds, experiences, and aspirations. Belonging builders can set the intention to go beyond the surface and gain a true understanding of colleagues, most specifically those who look and have lived different lives than you. It is important to also understand that building for belonging may not be a natural response, but instead requires intention, mindfulness, and reflection. 

Those with people management responsibility must model building for belonging by sharing their stories, listening to those of others, and ensuring accountability measures that promote safety and empowerment for all.

Chelsea C. Williams, Founder & CEO of Reimagine Talent Co.

Create a Senior Leadership Mentorship Program

One of the most important practices a workplace can adopt to activate belonging in the workplace is to create a senior leadership mentorship program. Employees who feel connected to a senior leader in their organization often feel a sense of empowerment and connectedness. This symbiotic relationship serves two purposes: the senior leader is provided with a chance to share their knowledge and expertise which underscores their sense of purpose and the mentee gains experience, and exposure and can learn new skills in a safe environment.

Hannah Austin, CEO and Founder of SheShatters LLC

Allow for Self-Expression

One way to create a sense of belonging in the workplace is to recognize and celebrate the fact that we are all individuals with our own sense of identity. When employees see that diversity is encouraged in the workplace they will feel more at ease and the sense of belonging to something bigger than themselves will follow.

There are many ways to achieve this, one excellent way is to remove the dress code for the workplace and allow the employees to dress as they feel most comfortable. This could include people being permitted to dress in the way they choose, whether that be the wearing of hijabs, turbans, dreadlocks, or even t-shirts with their favorite band's names, providing of course that there is nothing offensive to anyone displayed. By allowing everyone to be themselves without recriminations, but a part of something bigger, the employees will acknowledge that they are a part of a community and not simply a cog in the wheel.

Colin Palfrey, Chief Marketing Officer of Crediful


The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.

Add new comment

Please enter the text you see in the image below: