Ulster University research finds that workers who ‘belong’ feel better

Employers need to make sure that they put effort into employee wellbeing initiatives as these are part of the bigger picture that ultimately helps workers feel like they belong to an organisation.

Researchers at Ulster University teamed up with Dublin-based workplace software maker Inclusio to confirm something that lots of us have known all along – employees who feel like they belong are 50pc more likely to contribute to their company’s success.

The 50pc stat comes from data that Inclusio has spent a three-year period gathering for Ulster University researchers to assess. Dr Christopher McLaughlin, of Ulster University Business School, said the statistics Inclusio presented confirmed theories that belonging influences productivity.

Not only that, but belonging is linked to better problem-solving, greater commitment to an employer and increased engagement with the work itself.

“Belonging fosters a sense of psychological safety, where individuals feel comfortable taking risks, expressing their opinions and challenging the status quo.

“It encourages open dialogue, constructive feedback and the exploration of different viewpoints, leading to better problem-solving and decision-making processes. Organisations should not ignore the benefits of ‘belonging’ and how it can benefit both the organisation and employees,” said McLoughlin.

An emotional connection to the organisation

Belonging is often used in the same breath as words like ‘wellbeing’ and ‘employee satisfaction’ – but there are slight differences. You can feel like you belong to an organisation and be unhappy or suffering from poor wellbeing; however, the likelihood that you will feel empowered to ask for help from a colleague or a manager increases if you feel like you belong. Therefore, employers need to make sure that they put effort into employee wellbeing initiatives as these are part of the bigger picture that ultimately helps workers feel like they belong to an organisation.

As Sandra Healy, CEO and founder of Inclusio, pointed out, “When individuals feel like they belong, they are more likely to develop a strong emotional connection to the organisation and its mission. They feel motivated to contribute their best efforts, go above and beyond their role, and support their colleagues.”

She added that Inclusio encourages employers to explore this within their workplaces. “Inclusion is greatly influenced by the level of belonging within an organisation, as it creates a positive work environment where individuals feel valued, respected and supported and results in higher engagement. This high level of engagement and commitment leads to increased productivity, improved teamwork, and higher levels of job satisfaction.”

Creating a culture of belonging

Doug Dennerline, CEO of Betterworks agreed with Healy. Betterworks is a multinational performance management software maker that is targeting both Ireland and the UK for further growth. While Dennerline was not able to make any concrete predictions on that growth in Ireland just yet, he was able to share some tips for employers on how they can boost employee satisfaction and wellbeing with a view to creating a culture of belonging.

“Managing employee satisfaction starts with listening to your employees and ensuring they feel heard and understood,” he said, a very sensible thing to say, but probably quite difficult to do in reality, right?

Dennerline said making employees feel understood can be done via employee engagement and employee feedback surveys that help organisations “obtain actionable insights and identify topics and issues that are top of mind for employees”.

Another thing that can help is improving goal setting practices for workers. “Improving goal-setting practices can also help manage employee satisfaction by ensuring that the goals employees are working toward remain relevant over time and are driving results for their team and the larger business. Employees feel more connected to their work when they can tie their tasks and goals directly to the company objectives they help to advance.”

Belonging is not physical anymore

Listening and creating opportunities for employees to have their say is particularly important for helping remote workers feel like they belong. As Healy said, the pandemic really changed how we view belonging; it is not tied with physical presence in the workplace anymore.

“The concept of belonging has undergone significant evolution in the post-Covid remote and hybrid workplace. Previously, belonging was often associated with physical presence in a shared office space – employees could gain a sense of belonging through organic interactions, participating in team activities and being part of a cohesive work environment.

“However, with the shift to remote and hybrid work arrangements, the definition of belonging has expanded to encompass virtual connections and a sense of inclusion despite physical distance.”

It has taken employers a few years to catch up to the fact that the idea of belonging to one’s workplace changes slightly for remote and hybrid workers.

But Dennerline thinks that 2024 will be the year that business leaders will be forced to look critically at where the disconnect lies between their own views of the employee experience and the views of their employees.

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