When you work for an organization with a mission of advancing health worldwide, it’s easy to feel like you belong to a worthy cause, especially as we fight a worldwide pandemic together. But feeling like you truly belong in your individual work environment takes a little more effort — from supervisors, colleagues and, most important, the organization.
What creates a successful workplace culture is not what it was a year and a half ago. Today, workplaces everywhere are grappling with how to raise morale among their employees as we slowly begin to return to a new sense of normalcy. For many, the pandemic and its shutdowns have caused us to slow down, look around, and question what matters most in our lives. Is it our family, our friends, our pets, our talents, our work, our hobbies?
The average person will spend a third of their life — some 90,000 hours — at work. On top of that, the average worker will spend more than 100 hours commuting over the course of a career. Suffice it to say, work has a huge impact on our quality of life. If you work at something that you believe in — like helping people improve their health and longevity — but you don’t feel a sense of belonging, chances are you will not feel a sense of fulfillment either.
When we speak of belonging, we’re talking about an experience of connection, security and community. Building a diverse, inclusive and engaging workplace environment is key to fostering a sense of belonging. This is important to an organization because employees who feel a sense of belonging at work enjoy consistently higher levels of engagement, which in turn leads to higher productivity for the organization, as numerous studies have shown. By comparison, exclusion and isolation on the job lead to significant decreases in productivity at work.
To feel belonging, you must feel welcomed. It is essential that organizations integrate new employees into the team and the organization’s culture. Connections are especially important as we transition back and forth between in-person and remote work. Recognition for employees — especially new hires — whose behaviors align with organizational values can help encourage a sense of belonging. Employees also need to feel like they are known, understood and celebrated. Appreciation is a key tactic to increasing employee motivation and satisfaction.
Of course, we all want to feel included. I’m sure you remember those days in school when you were picked last for kickball, or you didn’t have friends to sit with during lunch. Inclusion matters; exclusion can have a severe impact on one’s psyche. Feeling included makes employees want to stay at their jobs and leads to higher levels of productivity. Employees also need to feel supported by being consistently and meaningfully nurtured and recognized. Feeling included makes employees want to stay at their jobs and commit to do great work.
Lastly, connection is key. Because we spend such a large chunk of our lives at work, we need to feel a sense of community. You don’t have to have a “best friend” at your job, but it’s beneficial to have friends at work in the form of peers, managers and leaders around whom you feel safe and comfortable. Creating a diverse workplace community gives people an increased opportunity to find someone with whom they can connect. In your role, consider how you can create a sense of belonging for others in your workplace. The simple act of asking a colleague if you can grab a cup of coffee or a snack for them will go a long way. And if you need someone to have coffee with, I am always available.
— Michael Reddy, dean, UCSF School of Dentistry;
associate vice chancellor, Oral Health Affairs, UCSF