Employers that want to reduce burnout, improve mental health, and ease stress in the workplace may find that helping employees feel like they belong will give them an outsized advantage when it comes to improving employee satisfaction, well-being, and productivity.
According to a new survey of 1,000 employees and 1,000 employers, improving employees’ sense of belonging can impact everything from their well-being to retention and productivity, as well as overall satisfaction with an employer. In fact, employees who demonstrate low levels of belonging are four times more likely to have faced mental health declines in the past year and 59% more likely to have considered quitting due to mental health concerns. Overall, there’s strong correlation between feelings of belonging and a workplace culture of well-being, with 61% of employees who report low levels of belonging also saying they don’t believe their employer prioritizes well-being.
Given the importance of belonging, then, how can employers help their employees feel valued in the workplace? Here are four ways to help make everyone feel like part of the team.
Offer Resources to Support Diverse Needs
No two employees have exactly the same experience in the workplace. Women are 30% more likely than men to say their employer doesn’t offer a culture of health and well-being, for example, and women of color are 22% more likely than their coworkers to have considered quitting over health and well-being concerns. Likewise, belonging doesn’t feel the same for a young, single woman as it does for a father of three or someone caring for an aging parent. Understanding the unique needs of their employee population allows employers to create programs, policies, and benefits that allow all classes and categories of employees to feel seen and appreciated so they’re willing and able to bring their best selves to work every day. If you’re not sure what kind of support your employees need, finding out can be as simple as asking them.
Communicate Well-Being Support
According to the survey, employees who believe their employer prioritizes health and well-being—and is making progress on efforts to support well-being—are more likely to feel like they belong. There are two factors at work here. The first is offering meaningful support for a broad range of employee well-being needs. But even the best well-being initiative will lack impact if it isn’t communicated clearly. And with employees being twice as likely as their employers to say there has been no positive change in supporting mental health and well-being, it’s clear the message doesn’t always get through. Whether you promote well-being initiatives through internal newsletters, e-mail, or social media, make sure you understand how employees consume information, and tailor outreach to have the greatest-possible impact. The reward for effectively communicating well-being support can be significant. According to the survey, companies that follow well-being best practices report that employees are more productive, easier to recruit, and more engaged.
Encourage Active Leadership
There has been a lot of talk in the past year about quiet quitting but not nearly as much about the impact of quiet leading. If you want employees to feel like they belong, your leaders need to be present and involved. Encouraging leaders to put in the work to connect with employees allows them to gather insights necessary to help those employees understand the “why” of their work and feel more connected to the success of the company. As a bonus, understanding employees as three-dimensional individuals may help leaders uncover hidden talents that can benefit the company. Beyond business benefits, improving relationships in the workplace may increase feelings of happiness, reduce stress, and enhance feelings of belonging and purpose.
Destigmatize Mental Health
Even as employers continue to make mental health a priority, employees find it harder to talk about mental health in the workplace, with just 52% of employees reporting they feel comfortable talking about mental health at work. That’s down from 60% in 2021—a sign that increased efforts to support employee mental health don’t always hit the mark. Providing mental health literacy training may help employees understand their coworkers’ challenges, and encouraging leaders and employees to share their own difficulties may allow those who are struggling to recognize they aren’t alone. This approach can have a meaningful impact even among employees who report low levels of belonging, 73% of whom say they would be more likely to stay in their job if their employer suddenly offered mental health or well-being benefits.
Belonging is a core human need, by some measures even more important to an individual’s sense of well-being than intimate personal relationships. Yet with 40% of employees reporting they feel isolated at work, it’s clear that nurturing a sense of belonging hasn’t been a top priority for employers. When employers fail to make belonging a priority, this survey suggests, their employees are less likely to believe their employer is open and transparent, less likely to feel they’re paid fairly, and less likely to recommend their employer as a great place to work. By committing to a culture that supports health and well-being, however, employers can help employees feel more welcome and strengthen their workforce in a challenging time.
Aimee Gindin is SVP of marketing at LifeSpeak Inc. (TSX: LSPK), a whole-person well-being solution for employers, health plans, and other organizations. A trained mental health crisis management clinician, Gindin is a recognized expert, author, and speaker.