“No Employee is an Island!”, Belongingness in the Digital Age

As the poet John Donne already stated in the 16th century:

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent.”

This quote can easily be transferred to a business environment, as it reflects a basic need that most human beings experience. The need to create inter-personal links and to feel part of something bigger. Five centuries later, in 2019 Cognizant[1] conducted a survey in partnership with Microsoft. The aim was to gain a better understanding of employee perceptions about belonging at work. They surveyed more than 10,000 employees from 17 countries all around the world, 92% of whom expressed the overall importance of feeling a sense of belonging at work.

How do you define belonging?

Baumeister and Leary (1995)[2] defined belonging as “the feeling of security and support when there is a sense of acceptance, inclusion, and identity for a member of a certain group or place, and as the basic fundamental drive to form and maintain lasting, positive, and significant relationships with others”.

The sense of belonging is mainly a feeling that is intrinsically linked to a company culture. It is up to each organisation to cultivate an environment and values that make belongingness possible. Through belongingness people feel that they can be their true self at work.

Why is it actually so important to consider belongingness?

Cultivating a sense of belongingness is not just a fad or a trend. Companies which succeed in making their employees feel they belong gain considerable advantages. BetterUp, a start-up focused on leadership development, released a study in which they surveyed nearly 1,800 employees and the results speak for themselves[3] :

  • Employees with a strong sense of belonging report a 56% higher level of overall performance
  • Belonging is associated with a more than 50% reduction in turnover risk
  • Employees who feel they belong reported taking 75% fewer sick days

The statistics above support that working on employees’ sense of belongingness will help improve overall engagement levels within the organisation. This is all the more important given the fact that research frequently shows employees tend to feel disengaged at work. For example, in Luxembourg the percentage of employees who openly admit they feel disengaged at work is around 80%[4] which has significant consequences on talent retention and productivity levels.

What does it take for employees to feel that they belong and feel included?

LinkedIn[5] recently conducted a survey of over 6,000 global professionals in order to determine what drives their sense of belonging at work. The results showed that the top 5 dimensions which made the respondents feel they belong are:

  1. Recognition of my accomplishments (59%)
  2. Having opportunities to express my opinions freely (51%)
  3. Feeling that my contributions in team meetings are valued (50%)
  4. Feeling comfortable with being myself at work (50%)
  5. Transparent communication about important company development (48%)

These results provide interesting insights for all organisations in order to understand which dimensions they should pay most attention to as a means of cultivating such a sense of belongingness. Of course, managers will need to play an important role in promoting and fostering these elements among their employees.

How can belongingness be linked to developing a digital culture?

Belongingness is a fundamental dimension of employee engagement. As such it should become part of any digital culture managers hope to cultivate successfully as part of their vision of a digital transformation. Managers have to act as role models serving their teams, which is why they need to develop soft skills, especially communication and emotional intelligence skills. They should also encourage their employees to collaborate and co-create this new digital culture, in which belongingness should play a central role.

Cultivating a sense of belongingness has to become a central concern for companies whether they are going digital or not. Organisations that are able to foster this feeling will gain competitive advantage and retain their talents, who will be more productive, creative and innovative as they feel connected to the company. If they feel a sense of belonging, they will go the extra mile to make things happen.

[1] Cognizant, https://www.cognizant.com/perspectives/what-it-means-to-belong-at-work

[2] Baumeister and Leary, http://persweb.wabash.edu/facstaff/hortonr/articles%20for%20class/baumeister%20and%20leary.pdf

[3] BetterUp, https://get.betterup.co/rs/600-WTC-654/images/BetterUp_BelongingReport_091019.pdf

[4] Gallup 2017

[5] LinkedIn, https://business.linkedin.com/talent-solutions/blog/company-culture/2017/employees-share-what-gives-them-a-sense-of-belonging-at-work

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