It hurts to feel like you don’t belong. At work – a place where many of us spend the majority of our waking hours, away from our families and with a group of people that shifts as often as we opt to change jobs – this feeling can be even more pronounced. As we continue our exploration of findings from the Workhuman® Analytics & Research Institute’s 2019 survey report, “The Future of Work is Human,” let’s look at how gratitude and connection affect inclusivity and that all-important feeling of belonging.
A brief personal history with belonging
True belonging doesn’t come naturally for me. While I’m generally a kind and friendly person, I can also be quiet, reserved, and independent to a fault. I’d rather sit alone than insert myself somewhere I wasn’t explicitly invited. I’ve avoided gatherings where I won’t know anyone, failed to make friends at summer camp, and brought a book along to a bar (more than once).
A couple of weeks ago, I went to eat lunch in the Workhuman® café. One table held a small group of people I didn’t know, so I sat at an empty table. As more people trickled in, someone else took another table nearby. A mutual friend came in a few minutes later and looked back and forth between the two of us at our otherwise empty tables. I grinned and shrugged, and he put his lunch down next to mine and waved the other person over. “Let’s all sit together,” he said. More people joined us, and I ended up talking to a bunch of folks from different departments, many of whom I’d never actually met even though I recognized their faces from around the office. Now I’m finding myself in hallway conversations with them, laughing together and discovering shared interests. I have more people I can gravitate toward at company events.
That’s the difference a human workplace makes. My life at work is happier and more enriched because one person saw my solitude and invited me to change it. Many people who don’t mind and even sometimes welcome doing things alone – people like me – want to feel accepted, appreciated, and a deep sense of belonging.
Many workplaces don’t foster real connections.
While gender differences are a serious problem in the workplace, they’re not the only serious problem. This year’s survey found 1 in 4 workers (26%) have felt discriminated against over the course of their career, and the top reason they cited was age (52%) – not gender identity (30%), race (29%), political views (20%), or sexual orientation (9%).
But even discrimination isn’t the top reason many people don’t feel that sense of belonging. While 7% of respondents said it’s why they don’t feel safe and accepted, 40% said a toxic work culture is the culprit. And the opposite of a toxic work culture is a civil one in which people practice kindness and respect – just like my friend did for me.
How do we create a kind and respectful workplace where people feel seen and included? We can start by taking employee recognition out of a hierarchical structure and empower everyone, from the C-suite to an individual contributor, to express gratitude and call out good work.
The difference a bit of gratitude makes
We asked survey respondents to rate how civil their work culture is on a scale of 0 to 100. Workplaces with the highest civility rating (82 on average) were also the ones in which their humans reported expressing the most gratitude and feeling the most recognition.
Including everyone in this expression of gratitude is incredibly important. We found that when everyone is empowered to give recognition, they feel higher levels of belonging (87%) as opposed to organizations in which only managers (72%) or senior leaders (68%) can. Rather than letting recognition and gratitude trickle down the organization, putting them in everyone’s hands builds connections and supports that all-important sense of belonging.
So, go ahead. Say “thank you.” Reach out to the person sitting alone and help them feel included. (And if you are that person and your solitude was intentional, consider accepting the invitation regardless.) Tell someone when they do something that makes your life better or work easier. We’ll all feel more belonging, build stronger connections, and grow our kinship and alignment within company cultures that enable people to truly see each other on a human-to-human level.
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