Are You Ready For The Era of Belonging?

Few leaders doubted that the impact of COVID would change the way we live and work, but few foresee how fundamental these changes would be.  There is no going back to the old normal. Things are irreversibly changed and that means that the way we lead our teams need to change. Are you ready?

Today leaders find themselves grappling with the following challenges:

  • Nearly 3 million women who have dropped out of the labour pool, in the US alone
  • People continuing to re-evaluate their lives, choosing balance, health, and family over hard-charging business priorities
  • Many low-wage jobs have moved from centralized city centers to far-reaching and less accessible locations not served by affordable public transportation
  • People waiting it out in limbo to see if their old jobs will return

The result is that many leaders are scrambling to find employees to fill the voids left by those that have decided to leave and move on.

However, that is just the start of the problem. The team members who walked out the door to go on lockdown are not the same people who are returning. Many are fearful and distracted, and morale is low despite the best efforts of organisations to care for their people. Many remained concerned for their physical well-being and are craving security and psychological safety.  Others are exhausted, burnout and fragile.

After such a period of dis-connection people want to feel heard and to belong. It is therefore paramount that leaders put Belonging at the heart of the business agenda if the company is the thrive.  And given that Belonging is all about how people feel, therein is a disconnect for many leaders because it is intangible, less linear, less easily understood and less measurable, and so in many cases less valued.

And yet the data is compelling. According to an article in the Harvard Business Review,  companies that create a sense of belonging enjoy substantial gains with a high sense of belonging being linked to

  • 56% increase in job performance
  • 50% reduction in employee turnover risk
  • 75% reduction in sick days

So, for a 10,0000 person company, this would result in an annual saving of more than $52 million.

The main reason being that belonging improves employee retention and recruiting and with the cost of employee turnover pegged at approximately one-third of the roles salary, slowing the rate of turnover can deliver tens of thousands in savings to SME’s and a seven-figure impact to larger organisations.

Belonging is clearly a significant contributor to employee engagement with recent research from Engagement Multiplier revealing that only 20% of employees who felt they didn’t belong feeling engaged compared to 91% of felt they were.

Furthermore, research by BetterUp reveals that people with a high sense of belonging tend to also be more resilient, resulting in higher job satisfaction, commitment, and productivity. And yet whilst 79% of companies in a Deloitte survey agree that fostering a sense of belonging is important, only 13% say they are ready to address this trend.

So how do leaders create belonging?

Firstly, it starts by creating psychological safety in the workplace.  This means that leaders need to ensure that team members feel safe and that their concerns are heard. Team members need to know that they can be vulnerable with others without fear of recrimination. And so it is beholden on leaders to model the way and demonstrate this vulnerability first, thereby giving others to do the same.

When leaders share their vulnerability and are authentic is enables team members to connect with them and re-connection and a sense of belonging is what everyone is now craving.

In fact, it is nothing new. Human beings are a tribal species but for far too long we have hidden our need for connection and belonging – particularly in the workplace – behind a mask.  We have all pretended we are fine, but after the events of the last year, it’s virtually impossible to do that, particularly when we witness the massive impact the pandemic has had on people’s mental health.

Secondly, by having a compelling purpose that unifies everyone.  When team members are aligned with the sense of the company’s purpose and it resonates with them on a personal level, a natural sense of belonging emerges, as everyone feels they are in it together.

So how are you evolving your leadership thinking to support your team in this post-COVID world?  Because if you don’t make understanding your team a real focus and create this sense of belonging, then I can ensure you that your business results will surely be impacted, and not in a positive way.

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