Somewhere I Belong

Organizations must practice diversity, equity and inclusion to ensure people feel like they belong. Why? Because business depends on it.

Let’s say you’re an established, well-known, organization in the Tampa Bay area with 100-plus full-time employees and 600-plus part-time employees. For years you’ve been all hands on deck, building, and growing, to become the best. And this year, you hit your big audacious goal. I’m talking about the ultimate achievement. The entire reason your organization exists is to succeed in this area—and you do. 

From the executive team to the janitorial staff, each person in your organization is full of pride. All the decisions made, all the late nights and at all levels. Everyone did their part and it resulted in a win. And now it’s time to reward the organization. It’s bonus time. 

The board room is full of buzz, and excitement, and one person says, “Team, I’m so proud that we made it here. Let’s payout everyone the same percentage of their salary, regardless of title. How about 10%?” They are met with, “Listen, we have to keep costs low. We are still recovering from the global pandemic. We can’t give everyone a bonus. Let’s give all full-time employees 10%, as well as any part-timers who have been with us for 10 years.” The decision is made, the company-wide email is sent. 

You’ve been working part-time in this organization for eight years, volunteering for extra shifts, sometimes working overnight and you open your inbox. You didn’t make the cut.

The next day, you hear that your full-time shift manager received a bonus. They started five years after you and you taught them everything they know. The worst part is, they won’t even acknowledge it with you. Either they’re embarrassed or they are in fear of losing their piece of the pie. You spend all day feeling excluded and wondering why you even work there anymore.

Belonging is feeling a part of something; feeling security, support and worthiness when there is a sense of acceptance, inclusion and equity for a member of a certain group or place. The story above is an example of inequity. Perhaps well-intentioned but it’s a “belonging” problem. 

According to Harvard Business Review, “40% of people say they feel isolated at work. U.S. businesses are spending $8 billion each year on diversity, equity and inclusion training that miss the mark because they neglect our need to feel included.” 

Data shows that belonging has a direct correlation to business outcomes like productivity and retention. When we experience feelings of belonging at our workplace, we have higher levels of enthusiasm and engagement.

When we don’t feel like we belong, our performance, and personal lives, suffer. Loyalty is questioned, distrust and resentment breeds, and top performers think twice about going above and beyond. A once strong foundation is crumbling and will continue until it collapses.

One of the best (and I argue easiest) things leaders, and organizations, can do to improve employee engagement, performance and to succeed at business goals is to foster feelings of belonging for all employees. And guess what? The top strategy is 100%, completely free.

Leaders, and organizations, should invite employee feedback before blanket decision-making, take it seriously and be transparent about the outcome. This behavior is a cornerstone of modern, inclusive, companies.

Will your decisions make everyone happy? No. Still, most reasonable people can make peace with decisions if they feel included in the process. ♦

Kim Linton is the owner of 1Light Daring Leadership & Facilitation. Linton works with individuals, and teams, who want to make work modern, courageous and intentional. She is a certified Dare to Leadz facilitator and provides agile, repeatable and profitable solutions for teams. Reach her at [email protected] and see more at weare1light.com..

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