Benefits Magazine Extras articles provide you with bonus content on a mix of benefits topics as well as deep dives and analyses on the latest benefit trends and compliance issues.

Visit ifebp.org/benefitsmagazine to see the latest Benefits Magazine Extras as well as the bimonthly print edition.

Strong feelings of belonging in the workplace are linked to better job performance as well as reductions in employee turnover and sick days. Following these five steps can help workers—including those who work remotely—feel like they belong.

The need to belong is rooted deeply in the human psyche, and feeling like you belong has been shown to help individuals reduce levels of depression, boost performance, increase life satisfaction and improve self-confidence. For some, there is even evidence that a general sense of belonging is more important than intimate personal relationships. Yet, despite this knowledge, efforts to nurture a sense of belonging are often overlooked in workplace well-being initiatives.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that 25% of employees feel like they don’t belong at work. And that situation may be amplified among remote or hybrid workers, 64% of whom say they feel isolated at least some of the time and 17% of whom report feeling that way all of the time.

Understanding whether employees feel welcome in the workplace is essential, given that employees who don’t feel like they belong are more likely to quit their jobs and less likely to feel as though their employer prioritizes health and well-being. In addition, strong feelings of belonging are linked to a 56% increase in job performance, a 50% reduction in employee turnover and a 75% reduction in sick days. Because belonging may mean different things to different employees, effectively measuring feelings of belonging may require a variety of approaches. For example, annual surveys allow employers to gather a macro-level view of employee attitudes, but it is also important for managers and other leaders to have authentic conversations with employees in order to collect more granular feedback.

Five Steps to Better Belonging

However you measure belonging, it’s clear that understanding and addressing employee attitudes about belonging is key in an environment where more than half of employees say they are open to quitting their job. As a result, employers that prioritize nurturing a sense of belonging among their employees may put themselves at a significant advantage in recruiting and retaining employees while also maximizing workforce performance. Here are five strategies to help your employees feel like they belong.

1. Consider Cultural and Demographic Differences

The workplace is increasingly diverse, and belonging will look and feel different depending on the workforce population. Age, race and other factors will all play a role. For example, a workforce full of new parents may need additional flexibility for child-care needs to reduce stress and improve well-being, while sandwich-generation employees who are caring for an aging parent may find elder caregiving resources more meaningful. For employees of color, meanwhile, increased workplace equity or well-articulated leadership support on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives may have the biggest impact.

Despite these differences, however, the vast majority of employers lack goals for gender or race representation. Make sure you account for unique employee perspectives. For example, women are 30% more likely than men to say their employer doesn’t offer a culture of health and well-being, and women of color are 22% more likely to have thought about quitting due to health and well-being concerns. If you are unsure of employees’ priorities, make a point to ask. You can do this formally, with confidential surveys and other feedback opportunities, or more casually with informal conversations. Both approaches have merit: An anonymous survey may allow employees to be more forthcoming, while in-person conversations will help build relationships between managers and employees, which may strengthen feelings of belonging all on their own.

2. Create a Safe, Accepting Culture for Mental Well-Being

Mental health has declined across the board in recent years, and while more than three-quarters of employers currently offer mental health resources, one report indicates that less than one-third consider employee mental health a priority. Perhaps as a result, employees feel less comfortable discussing mental health in the workplace than they did a year ago.

To improve this situation, employers should train managers on how to approach mental health with their employees and look for ways to destigmatize discussions of mental health in the workplace. Consider featuring stories about mental health challenges in internal communications or encouraging leaders to share their own challenges and visibly prioritize their own mental health by taking a mental health day or taking short breaks during the day to reset.

Benefits teams can also normalize mental health challenges by hosting workshops, lunch-and-learns, support groups and webinars with experts who can talk about various mental health issues. Simply attending a group session on depression, for example, can show employees that they are not alone in their struggles. When paired with more explicit permission to focus on mental health—offering time off for mental health days or coverage for professional mental health services, for example—this will help employees feel supported with their challenges. Employers can also increase access to mental health care. Virtual and on-demand options may help, as many people in the U.S. still face long delays accessing mental health care.

3. Commit to Supporting Comprehensive Employee Well-Being

Following three years of dramatic change, employers likely need to evaluate their approach to employee well-being against current realities. Comprehensive well-being initiatives should now account for the interconnectedness of physical and mental well-being while also addressing the challenges of supporting mental and physical health for remote and hybrid workers. For example, employers can capitalize on the growing preference for virtual interactions to engage employees and their dependents in programs that educate the entire family about the connection between movement, nutrition and mental health. In addition, virtual resources can be a vital support for working caregivers or employees who have substance use disorders.

However you approach employee well-being, adopt or maintain a strong, supportive leadership voice and implement strategies across the well-being spectrum to create a supportive culture for all employees. Research has shown that employers that follow well-being best practices—such as creating a formal well-being strategy, focusing on whole-person health, demonstrating leadership support for the initiative and communicating consistently about the program—can benefit from lower turnover, higher employee engagement, improved productivity and lower health care costs. These employers often also find it easier to recruit new employees.

4. Foster Active Leadership Among Management

Managers and other employees in leadership positions are among the most important resources for nurturing a sense of belonging. A present and active leader can do a lot to make employees feel welcome in the workplace, while frontline workers without supportive management are up to four times more likely to quit their job.

Make sure managers and others in leadership positions understand that getting to know their employees is part of the job, then support them in efforts to create meaningful connections. Train frontline managers to understand the daily challenges and needs of employees and give their teams permission to participate in well-being activities, whether that’s taking time from work to volunteer, organizing team social activities or simply asking people about their day and truly listening to the answer. By teaching managers how to be physically, emotionally and intellectually present for their employees, employers can increase feelings of belonging and make it easier for employees to share mental health and other challenges that they might otherwise have kept bottled up until they reached crisis levels.

5. Use Fitness as a Social Outlet and Well-Being Strategy

One challenge with remote and hybrid workforces is the impact of isolation on employee social well-being. People benefit from interactions with friends and co-workers, and employees may miss out on those connections when their commute doesn’t take them farther than their living room. Similarly, creating social connections may make it easier for individuals to start and stick with efforts to improve their well-being. For example, 95% of people who started a weight-loss program with friends completed the program, compared with 76% who participated on their own. The friend group was also 42% more likely to maintain their weight loss.

Employers can use on-demand, virtual fitness programs that allow users to virtually exercise with other users, and they can offer on-site fitness challenges or daily workplace walks to create community within their workforce, increasing feelings of belonging while boosting physical well-being. In addition, employers should look for well-being opportunities that can include an employee’s entire family or social circle. Variety is important here, because employees won’t all have the same abilities or goals when it comes to fitness. To ensure that organizations are offering the appropriate activities, benefits teams can survey employees about their interests, collaborate with frontline managers to understand the type of activities employees in different departments might enjoy, or examine participation data from any virtual platforms the organization offers to see what topics and classes employees are accessing.

Conclusion

With the growth of remote work and instability caused by high levels of both resignations and layoffs, employers face tremendous challenges to creating a healthy culture in the workplace and helping employees feel like they belong. For employers willing to be thoughtful about their well-being efforts, however, the rewards can include increased feelings of belonging, increased productivity and improved performance.

Aimee Gindin is chief marketing officer at LifeSpeak Inc., a digital whole-person well-being platform for employers, health plans and other organizations. A trained mental health crisis management clinician, Gindin is a recognized expert, author and speaker. She holds a B.S. degree in psychology from the University of Pittsburgh, an M.S. degree in counseling psychology from Chatham University and a certificate in pre-medicine/pre-medical studies from Harvard University.

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Benefits Magazine Extras articles provide you with bonus content on a mix of benefits topics as well as deep dives and analyses on the latest benefit trends and compliance issues. Foundation members can visit ifebp.org/benefitsmagazine to view the full bimonthly print edition of the magazine.  Global […]