With the Covid-19 pandemic seemingly turning into an endemic, we see large numbers of people leaving their current ‘security of employment’ for greener grass.
A lot of these people leave due to low wages and perceiving a sense of unwantedness in their current job. It’s a shame that after years and years of loyal service to a company, they're forced to make the hard choice to leave.
Think about this: You spend an average of 6-9 hours (or sometimes more!) a day at your job. That's half or most of your day dedicated to your boss and daily duties. So, if you’re going to work feeling like you really don’t want to be there, well, consider that a clear red flag!
After surviving the dreaded Covid-19 pandemic, we see a shift in employer-employee dynamics. Previously, it wasn't common for bosses to pay much heed to the well-being of their employees nor care much about them, save for the work that they're paid to do.
If you were one of those on the short end of the stick, you had to suck it up, and try to make the best of the situation. These days however, people are realising their true worth, their capabilities, and most importantly, what they will and will not stand for. If they feel like they aren't valued at their place of work? Most probably they wouldn't hesitate to pack up and seek employment in a place where they are!
Now, this can be good news indeed if you’re a fellow competitor. It'll be in your best interests to poach workers from rival companies in order to get the best talent for your own company. Nonetheless, you still have to do your best to retain them, otherwise, you might just end up like those companies. Apart from giving out the obvious perks like much higher salaries, unlimited career development, supplemental insurance programmes, and generous paid annual leave... what else can you do?
According to a 2021 poll involving over 11,000 employees, the number one driving factor to retain staff is by fostering a deep and strong sense of belonging to the company. When they feel like they're truly included, they would then perceive that the company cares for them as individuals (their authentic selves), without fear of different treatment or punishment.
A strong inclusion has a major impact on performance – it motivates employees to shine in their contributions with regards to the company. Staff would naturally gravitate towards an empowering work culture that values its employees. Happy, motivated, and valued employees can result in up to a 12% increase in productivity.
In other words, if you make them feel at home in your company, they’ll want to give you back more. This is explained in motivation theories, especially Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This theory places 'sense of belonging' as a need in the third level, and it's described as a person's emotional need for interpersonal relationships, and being part of a group.
Since we spend a lot of our days at work, it's a no-brainer that we try to feel like we're included at the place that takes up so much of our precious time. According to research, having that sense of belonging was 12% more important to workers during the pandemic. The same research also found that employees who obtain belongingness at work would reach their potential 3.5 times faster.
Another study done by Harvard Business Review found that a sense of belonging resulted in a massive 56% increase in productivity, a 50% reduction in risk of turnover, and a 75% drop in applications for sick leave.
Simply put, if you're capable of creating a supportive environment and culture of belonging in the workplace, you can expect happier, more productive, and motivated employees. All good leaders, do take note!
Here are a few ways that you can adopt in your workplace to try to inspire the sense of belonging in your workers:
Don’t be overbearing and end up turning into a 'helicopter boss' (hovering closely around your staff); let them do their work, it's what you brought them onboard for. If you chose them for the job, it means they have something of value to offer to the company.
You need to reassure your staff that you trust them and their capabilities, using consistent and thoughtful ways. Think: Carefully giving up control in measured amounts, sharing information to signal transparency, and investing in employee development.
In addition, if you can create an air of trust among your fellow staff, expect an atmosphere of positivity and productivity to follow! Remember, the key is to foster an open, honest environment where employees won’t be afraid to challenge the status quo. Make it clear that you’re seeking for honest opinions and/or feedback, and you could even give them an incentive or reward for speaking up.
Leaders can also promote a more candid environment by practicing it themselves – speak openly, and your team will follow. Let them know that they're appreciated there, inspire them to bring out the best in themselves and one another, as well as invite them to share their ideas and thoughts about work, duties, or even some casual office banter.
“A diverse mix of voices leads to better discussions, decisions, and outcomes for everyone.”
– Sundar Pichai
Don’t leave anyone out and inadvertently cause a culture of 'outsiderness'! Doing so is actually a painfully personal experience, which may cause your employees to further suppress the parts of themselves that makes them unique. Allow people the freedom to feel comfortable with their true selves – emphasising on individuality that would then lead to an improvement in diversity and company culture.
For example, leaders could have a little game during orientation week for newcomers: Questions are asked to determine the newcomers' personalities and perspectives that makes each person unique, then given merchandise with their respective names rather than the company name.
Giving employees the opportunity to have a say on work matters and providing routine opportunities for check-ins can and will make them feel like they're part of a team (which then fulfils Maslow’s third level). It's even better when their collective ideas actually solve the problem! Why not try this: Create a game plan that involves the input of your staff and hear what they have to say. You’ll see some amazing results when many brilliant minds come together to brainstorm.
Let your employees know that you and the company value their work and ideas. Make them feel seen and heard by appreciating the creative ways they use to solve work problems or colleague conflicts. There's no point bragging about your productivity if you don’t include the people who made it happen!
You could opt for small gestures and simple rewards that are still impactful, like allowing your employees to announce big wins, honouring their work anniversaries, and unique award programmes that are based on a merit-point system. There's also the classic ‘Employee of the Month’ celebration where the top performer will be given additional attractive bonuses.
You should bear in mind that not all employees are motivated the same way; some prefer being recognised in public and visible ways, where others are satisfied with a more private and personal affirmation. Whatever the method, leaders should aim to always speak intentionally in order to show their employees how their individual contributions are irreplaceable to the company, in addition to challenging them and emphasising their unique skills.
"A few good words don't just make your day, but they also give the sense of belonging and confidence to take the next big step forward."
– Ravi Shastri
Let's face it, if you feel like it's you versus the world, you'd probably want to retreat into a safe cocoon when things get too overwhelming for you to face on your own. Which is why people who are brought together in a favourable and positive environment can encourage them to feel like they have a place they belong.
One way that leaders can do so is to start the practice (both for themselves and all co-workers) of regularly checking in with those in the company, both personally and professionally. This can be as simple as dropping a message in the work chat to see how someone is doing, and then intently listening to their answer and asking genuine follow-up questions. This is a great way to make people feel seen and valued.
In the workplace, leaders can further explore opportunities to create social bonds through how teams are structured, whether each one has a diverse mix of people from all walks of life. They can also look at how the offices are designed to create opportunities for social interactions, for example, having an open-plan floor layout (breaking down walls and grouping employee workstations together). This type not only fosters better communication within teams, it also boosts the 'chance collisions' between employees that are conducive to creativity, support, and creating a sense of community.
What happens if you exclude any of your staff?
For starters, an experiment conducted by Harvard Business Review established that workers who feel left out would start to deteriorate in terms of giving back to the company. This deterioration slowly evolves to a sense of wanting to leave, and thus, those employees may leave within a short period of time after being employed.
HR and management executives should adopt some (if not all!) of the above methods in order to seek and retain their good, valuable staff. This initiative has to be done in a ‘top-down’ manner, which involves the higher-ups taking the first step.
CEOs, heads of departments, and the management team can start by practising the above suggestions with their immediate subordinates, and seeing the results for themselves. Making yourself to be an example is a sure-fire way to get your employees jumping on the inclusionary train!
"At GRIT, we place service, relationship, and partnership at the cornerstones of our company. You have the opportunity to impact people positively or negatively every day, through every interaction, and how you make them feel. All that will be how they remember and perceive you."
– Paul Endacott