Houston innovator explores importance of belonging within the modern workforce
Even in a highly digital, globalized world, the essence of business remains the same: a vibrant tapestry of people working together towards a common goal.
Regardless of how fractured business focus can become, people are at the center of everything that brings business success. And people all share in our fundamental human need to belong to something greater than ourselves and to experience a sense of community, support, and affiliation with others.
The intricacies of human connection underpin our collective drive for unity and purpose, which becomes profoundly disrupted when an organization loses sight of prioritizing its employees. To prevent the Great Disconnect from further eroding our people and forestalling the perils of losing their best and brightest people, leaders must cultivate a deep understanding of, and commitment to, fostering organizational belonging.
The recent groundbreaking study by the team behind Deutser's Institute for Belonging, incorporating the perspectives of nearly 15,000 employees, crystallizes this sentiment. Our results overwhelmingly indicate that an employee's sense of belonging outstrips both their perception of organizational culture and their salary as key determinants of engagement, satisfaction, and overall performance. Previously, employers believed the inverse to be true. This is a significant shift in the attitudes of the workforce.
Unless leaders devote considerable energy, time, and resources towards nurturing an organizational culture of belonging, they may risk depleting their most valuable asset: their people. This article delves into the intricate details of our research and the consequent implications for leadership, aiming to provide a blueprint for leaders to build an inclusive and empowering workspace.
In another of our studies with 275 employees, a staggering 90 percent affirmed the importance of experiencing a sense of belonging at work. Broadening our research to an expansive sample of 14,709 employees across diverse industries and roles, we found an undeniable correlation: individuals who experienced a sense of belonging exhibited significantly higher levels of engagement, job satisfaction, and effort. The most striking understanding about this work was that belonging predicts satisfaction, engagement, and commitment to the organization over and above employees’ views of the culture or strategy.
As leaders, we’ve seen a decades long placement of culture and strategy at the top — but it is belonging that really drives performance. Another adjunct study, employing an experimental design with 71 employees, validated that employees would willingly forego higher compensation and be more inclined to stay at an organization that nurtures their sense of belonging. In sum, organizations and leaders stand to gain substantially by investing in nurturing connections, empowerment, and unity among their teams.
In our survey research, conducted with a sample of 14,709 employees, we used a five-dimensional measure of organizational belonging, encapsulating:
- Acknowledgment and appreciation of individual opinions.
- Fostering a strong sense of team unity.
- Opportunities for professional growth within the company.
- Optimal alignment between job responsibilities and individual skill sets.
- Trust in leadership’s commitment to their welfare.
Although there are many definitions out there, we define belonging as where we hold space for something of shared importance. It is where we come together on values, purpose, and identity; a space of acceptance where agreement is not required but a shared framework is understood; where there is an invitation into the space; an intentional choice to take part in; something vital to a sense of connection, security, and acceptance.
Brad Deutser is the founder and CEO of Deutser, a Houston-based consulting firm, and author of BELONGING RULES: Five Crucial Actions that Build Unity and Foster Performance. Isabel Bilotta is managing consultant and head of learning and innovation at Deutser's learning initiative.
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