Study Uncovers the Importance of Employee Belonging in the Workplace

Summary of:

Waller, L., “Fostering a sense of belonging in the workplace: Enhancing well-being and a positive and coherent sense of self” (2020). The Palgrave Handbook of Workplace Well-Being, 1-27.

Background & Theory:

Past research on theories of motivation shows us that belonging is a fundamental human need and a basic human motivation. Potentially deriving from the evolutionary advantage of being in a group, a sense of belonging releases dopamine (which creates pleasure) in the brain, highlighting belonging’s role as part of our brain’s reward system. Considering the evolutionary and neurological roots of belonging, paying attention to it makes a difference in human life. This study deconstructs the negative effects of the lack of belonging and constructs ways of encouraging belonging in the workplace.

Question(s):

Research was consolidated by Lee Waller to answer the following question:

    1. What is the importance of an individual’s sense of belonging and how does it pertain to organizational employee-responsibility?

Methods:

Over 120 past research studies, books, and other resources were utilized to create this literature review on the sense of belonging in the workplace, published in The Palgrave Handbook of Workplace Well-Being.

Results:

In the workplace, belonging is characterized by having quality work-relationships, perceived value and purpose, and shared or similar characteristics to those around you. Lack of belonging on an individual level leads to increased anxious and depressive behavior, questioned sense of self, low self-esteem, diminished sense of self-efficacy, increased internal conflict, lack of motivation to be one’s authentic self, and decreased psychological well-being.

Organizations can foster a culture that promotes belonging through giving employees a sense of control over their ability to belong in the workplace. Practically, this can be achieved through embodying an organizational identity that can be matched and embodied by employees, creating a culture of open-communication and feedback, establishing a psychologically safe environment, encouraging the development of quality relationships, developing a sense of employee-organizational value, utilizing adaptive and constructive resolution strategies to resolve employee sense of not-belonging, and enhancing organizational awareness of the sense of not-belonging.

What We Can Learn:

Looking over this research, we can take away the following key insight:

  • Organizations can develop a greater sense of belonging in their employees by encouraging relationship building, ensuring employees are able to perform and contribute effectively, and fostering an organizational culture that is inclusive, psychologically safe, and allows for employees to voice their concerns.

Final Takeaways

For Consultants: Consultants should be well aware of the importance of belonging as a fundamental human need, and further, should be able to train, coach, and counsel employees on constructive coping strategies for low sense of self-belonging.

For Everyone: Not feeling like you belong at your job can lead to a lot of self-doubt and worry. Leveraging your strengths to add value to your team is one strategy that may help decrease these negative thoughts and feelings.