Building a Foundation of “Belonging” in the Workplace Through Community Engagement

Building a Foundation of “Belonging” in the Workplace Through Community Engagement

A company’s greatest asset is its people. This is not corporate jargon; you can feel this concept in action as a consumer after having an amazing customer service experience. You truly believe this as an employee when you’re able – and, more so, encouraged – to bring your authentic self to work.

As we are all acutely aware, the pandemic accelerated a revolution that, for so many of us, has shifted the relationship between how and where we get work done. As flexible work arrangements and technology tools increase and, as a byproduct, tangible work connections decrease, creating an environment that fosters belonging becomes especially important.

What is belonging and why is it relevant to the workplace?  

While diversity goals have long been common benchmarks for companies, there is increased focus on the powerful concept of “belonging” as a central tenet of workplace culture. Diversity means proportionate representation across all dimensions of human difference, whereas inclusion means providing equal access and opportunities and getting rid of discrimination and intolerance. Belonging means that everyone is treated and feels like a full member of the larger community and is given the ability to thrive. For employees, belonging has been described as that feeling of fitting in and being accepted as you are, your true authentic self, without fear of repercussions or admonishment. To create the best employee experience possible, all three of these concepts: belonging, diversity and inclusion, must coexist.

Building a workplace that strives for and values belonging not only supports employees’ physical and emotional health, but can also improve retention, productivity, performance and pride in the workplace. In fact, according to a 2019 study by BetterUp, when employees feel like they belong, it leads to a 56% increase in job performance and a 167% increase in the likelihood they would recommend their organization as a great place to work. Furthermore, when a sense of belonging is not present, employee engagement can devolve by up to 30%, with additional negative impacts in other areas.

Six ways community engagement supports belonging at work

Community engagement through activities like volunteering, giving, employee resource groups and support for civic life offers an important pathway to building a sense of belonging among employees. By nurturing employee connections and relationships across the organization, supporting leadership development and fostering a sense of shared purpose, community engagement efforts can create an environment where authenticity is welcomed and celebrated. 

More specifically, your company’s social impact strategy and tactics supports belonging by:

  1. Underscoring a corporate commitment to diversity and equity within your company’s focus areas. When choosing nonprofit partners, grantees and impact investments, the company selects only those that uphold non-discriminatory practices and seeks out those that are founded or led by marginalized groups. This is guided by transparent, published processes and policies. More so, the beneficiaries of corporate giving and service are reflective of a diverse workforce.
  2. Reaffirming support for employees’ purpose regardless of position. From newly-added “acts of kindness” to charitable payroll deductions to traditional or skills-based volunteering, employees are looking for ways to live out their purpose through their employer. Support for these activities helps develop that sense of belonging, especially when opportunities are created to build empathy and are fully accessible to employees regardless of ability, skill level, position or exempt status. Providing ways for employees to act on their personal passions through matching gifts, VTO or setting up their own fundraising campaigns through a technology platform reinforces that the company cares about what its employees care about.
  3. Offering leadership opportunities that build social bonds while creating social impact. Whether the company offers a network of Employee Resource Groups or Volunteer Councils (or hopefully both!), these leadership opportunities provide employees the chance to put the company’s values in action as well as their own. Members of these groups are empowered to help drive local community initiatives as well as aid in more substantial decision-making for the company. While they build new relationships among colleagues and external partners and participate fully in what the company supports, they are able to connect meaningfully with their employer and colleagues and create allyship.
  4. Reinforcing opportunities to speak up and speak out. Having a CEO who takes a leading role in equity advocacy is paramount, but equally important is developing a culture where employees feel empowered to use their voice individually and collectively. This aids in nurturing belonging, whether it’s respectfully challenging business norms, being asked for input on new business processes or taking a stand on a community concern.
  5. Attracting values-driven, diverse candidates. Nearly one out of five people and two out of five Gen Zers have considered applying for or taking a job with a company specifically because they believe it is committed to being socially responsible[i]. Sharing your company’s social impact activities through recruiting events and materials and incorporating them into internships and the onboarding experience helps the company attract not just the best and brightest new talent, but those whose values align with the company and fellow colleagues.
  6. Lifting up the days that celebrate our uniqueness. Connecting volunteer activities, giving campaigns or learning opportunities to moments in time like Veterans Day, Pride, Hispanic Heritage Month, International Woman’s Day or Juneteenth can help foster a sense of belonging among workers by publicly demonstrating the company’s support for diversity, equity and inclusion and proving that difference isn’t a disruption. While important to pause during this moments in time, make plans to celebrate the uniqueness of your workforce throughout the year too.

As the working world shifts and settles into our new normal, strengthening the sense of belonging felt by employees will become vital to corporate success, and just as central as purpose and profit. Fortunately, having a solid community engagement strategy offers employees opportunities for meaning, connection and contribution to shared goals. 

For more insights on Work, one of the components of Points of Light’s Civic Circle, check out the latest edition of Civic Life Today.

[i] Points of Light: Engaging Americans in Civic Life, May 2020.

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