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Here’s what makes workers feel like they ‘belong’ at work

Our research shows 3 in 10 workers want to leave their job in the next 12 months. The reasons why are clear. But what if we flipped the question around? For those who don’t want to leave, what makes them feel like they belong where they are?

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Posted On Jun 28, 2023 

Our Global Workforce of the Future report uncovered a startling fact: workers are ‘pushed’ out of their job much more often than they are attracted to another one. In fact, of all the workers planning to quit in the next 12 months only 13% said it was because they’d been offered something better.


We had to dig deeper: what is pushing them out? We found the most common push factors were:


  1. Salary (45% of workers)
  2. Better work/life balance (35%)
  3. Upskilling and career progression opportunities (34%)


Yet we wondered if employees felt they belonged, would these factors matter still so much? We ran two LinkedIn polls on what creates a sense of belonging at work and received around 12,000 responses. This is what we found.


Do you trust me?


For 49% of respondents, being trusted is key. This chimes with our findings, that among those who were highly satisfied at work, 70% said trust from their manager was crucial.


Perhaps with good reason. Across 2020 the pandemic saw 17.4% of the global population working from home – up from just under 8% in 2019. This put the trust between employers and their workers to the test. After all, how could managers know for sure that workers would be putting in the hours for the benefit of the business without being directly supervised in person? Forced and sudden remote work conditions also raised questions for workers, namely: how can I stand out among my peers while working from home? And does my company really have my best interest in mine? It is easy to see why many were eager to go “back to normal” as quickly as possible.


Sales of monitoring software increased by more than 1,700% in 2020 as workers’ locations were tracked, desktops were surveilled and even keystrokes counted. A study by Gartner showed 61% of managers had increased their employee check-ins to measure performance. Almost as if, as one respondent put it, “employers / managers do not trust their people to make good decisions for the business” Rather than a surge in slacking, productivity rose, on average, by 7%.


But this will have done very little to bring back trust, which may well have been collateral damage.


Flexibility = faith


Tracking left many workers feeling micromanaged and without agency. More than that, many remote and hybrid workers felt vulnerable and left behind. 44% of respondents believe that having flexibility is another key factor contributing to the sense of belonging to their work and employers. More flexibility in where, when and how they work could return much of this agency, sense of control and security to workers.


Flexibility is not just about hours and location – it should also extend to demonstrating faith in an employee’s abilities and allowing a good level of autonomy. By loosening their grip on the reins, managers remove strain and signal trust, which goes a long way towards convincing employees – especially remote ones – that they are seen, known, understood, accepted… and hence belong.


There is a long way to go in the flexibility fight, but it is more than a pandemic fad. There are concrete steps for businesses to reap the benefits of a holistic flexibility approach to workplace culture.


People first


One comment on the poll suggested belonging comes from “fostering a culture of trust to support mental wellbeing” – and studies strongly suggest more autonomy at work equals better psychological wellbeing. This is key. Our research shows that nearly half of workers globally (49%) are concerned about suffering burnout in the future. However, only 17% of workers take a sick day when feeling mentally unwell/feeling burnt out.


Employers who create belonging do not treat workers like digits on a spreadsheet. “People are more than just numbers and more important than the bottom line,” added another responder to the poll.


Recognizing this, a good manager will be making human connections, even opening up to their own vulnerabilities to help workers and workplace better align and improve.


Because a culture of belonging doesn’t only focus on the ups – it’s just as critical during the downs. A commentator pointed out he most feels a sense of belonging “when they recognize and appreciate my efforts, wins and great work – and the losses or low moments – and convert them into a positive learning experience”.


An open, holistic approach leads to recognition of need – for upskilling and career planning; two key elements in retaining staff. A recent Adecco Group survey underscored these points – finding 34% of workers planning to leave their organizations were unhappy with the lack of both upskilling and career development.


It all comes down to culture


Perhaps we need to spin the perspective. One of our poll respondents made this interesting point: “I don’t belong to any employer; they belong to me and my coworkers who contribute to the culture.”


What if workers don’t belong to their workplace but the workplace and its culture actually belong to workers? Employers can establish mission statements and core values, but only workers can materialize them. A company’s culture is the intersection of all the different personalities that contribute to it. As such, it is a living, breathing thing that is constantly changing.


So what does this mean for companies and managers? Maybe, far from exercising control, a good manager understands exactly when to relinquish it. Instead of trying to shape and control company culture, companies should work to recognize the culture they have and tap into it and realize that maybe they could be closer to it.


But relinquishing control is hard. It depends on trust. When genuine trust exists between employer and employee, admitting weaknesses and asking for help will be a natural and supportive process – in both directions.


When managers and employees share their concerns, solutions are more likely to be found in an organic and human-centric fashion. Remember the tracking versus trust issues highlighted earlier? In the right environment, tracking can be a welcome tool.  According to a study by Gartner, 96% of digital workers would welcome task tracking in return for better IT support to improve their workflow. When monitoring provides aligned purpose, it’s no longer a trust issue.


Active empathy and confident vulnerability promote mental wellbeing and open up pathways to training and upskilling in an environment of shared values. Investment in these entrenches belonging.


Every workplace has its original thinkers. Meeting each personality with an equal level of consideration – and some reasonable adjustment – is key to keeping the balance. A workplace culture, after all, is a culture where everyone feels they can be themselves – and still belong.


Contact an LHH expert today to find out more about how to create an inclusive culture of belonging that keeps your talent.