How soon do you start to feel a sense of belonging when you start working for a new employer?
Principal Consultant, Fiona Yorke, explores what a sense of belonging is in a workplace, reflecting on her first 2 weeks at t-three...
Okay, I have to confess this is a personal reflective question I have been asking myself as I am now at the end of week 2 working for t-three. You see before I joined t-three I thought that a sense of belonging was something that you felt after you had been with an organisation for at least a year or so, but perhaps my assumptions are about to be challenged?
So what exactly is a sense of belonging in the workplace?
Filstad, Cathrine & Traavik, Laura & Gorli, Mara. (2019) in their research, ‘Belonging at work: the experiences, representations, and meanings of belonging. Journal of Workplace Learning’ describes it as,
“Belonging is situated in and integrated with social interactions, materiality, emotions, and aesthetics. Belonging is about being part of something, the process of becoming through constant mediation between material aspects and social components, the process of experiencing boundaries and the attempt to perform, engage and participate (and find spaces for shared practices) in a workplace. Together, they constitute the situatedness, the here and now, of experiences of belonging and the perceived interpretation of being one among equals across organizational boundaries.”
Now let’s just dwell on that last sentence – ‘being one among equals across organizational boundaries', so in essence, no matter where you are in the organisation if you feel equity and parity with other colleagues from the outset then perhaps a sense of belonging can emerge quickly.
Why does a sense of belonging matter to employers?
Well, what we do know is that, although perhaps unquantifiable in some ways (after all a sense of belonging involves ‘feelings’ and we all experience those differently), here’s how author Alfie Kohn put it,
"People will typically be more enthusiastic where they feel a sense of belonging and see themselves as part of a community than they will in a workplace in which each person is left to his own devices."
Therefore, an important question to ask ourselves is, does our workplace create a ‘community’ a shared space either virtually or in-person that engenders connection, that reduces isolation? Or are people just left to ‘get on with it'. As organisations evolve through the pandemic are we finding that we have lost the ability to create community and belonging as we don’t all now have a physical workplace in which to connect? Big questions. We know that recruiting and retaining people is a significant challenge for many organisations at the minute and therefore the ability to create a sense of belonging early on in the onboarding process could significantly contribute to happy, retained employees who are productive from the get-go.
Other research points to 3 important ways organisations can create a sense of belonging, Jackie Wiles in a 2020 article for Gartner cites the following:
Bring everyone on board
Demonstrate care through benefits and initiatives
Now, this has wider implications for the HR community in terms of inclusion strategies, reward, and recognition and overarching all of this is the workplace culture that is currently experienced – all of this needs attention for the sense of belonging to be sustainable. But just focussing on new starters, for now, this seems like a positive formula to shape the onboarding process. The main point is that people need to feel that the new organisation cares for them, that the sooner you can help them feel part of the group and that the person can bring their true self to work, the quicker the individual and the organisation can benefit. Feeling like an ‘outsider’ brings about anxiety, self-doubt and some can experience cognitive dissonance which can seriously prohibit confidence and competence as they try to work out whether their beliefs and values are what the beliefs and values of the organisation are.
Furthermore, currently, some organisations cannot offer the most attractive salaries but if they can create a sense of belonging through benefits and initiatives that involve putting inclusivity high up the agenda then prospective employees can already start to feel part of the new organisation, can feel that that notion of being an ‘outsider’ is not going to be the reality when they start their new job, making that organisation more attractive.
Where has this led my reflections so far? What I have experienced here at t-three is that they have actively worked on eliminating the ‘outsider’ feeling, have allowed me to bring my ‘true self’ to work, and have ensured that engagement with colleagues has been both enjoyable and productive, indeed I already feel a sense of belonging but then what else would you expect from a company that helps other organisations to sparkle?