Fostering Belonging in the Workplace is Essential: What Leaders Can Do

Fostering Belonging in the Workplace is Essential: What Leaders Can Do

A few years ago, PRADCO’s Regional General Manager and Vice President James Lundquist, noted that the focus on employee experience was at an all-time high as organizations worked to gain a competitive advantage. Fast forward only a few years and the focus on employee experience, particularly “belonging,” has grown from competitive advantage to organizational necessity.

Humans are “hardwired” for connection and group belonging. Yet, as our world becomes less communal and simultaneously more volatile, connection and belonging have declined significantly. Indeed, the U.S. surgeon General recently declared loneliness and isolation a national health epidemic, equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day! Also, current research shows that up to 80% of workers feel lonely or isolated at work so it is no surprise that the 2023 Global Human Capital Trends survey identified this as a top issue facing organizations.

Creating a sense of belonging at work is now essential. Organizations that cultivate belonging can mitigate the increase in loneliness and isolation, and significantly improve employee engagement, motivation, job performance, satisfaction, and retention.

Leaders often struggle to understand what “belonging” is and what they can do to foster it. At its core, belonging is the feeling of being a valued member of a community and has four key contributing drivers:

  1. Culture
  2. Psychological Safety
  3. Connection
  4. Purpose



Belonging starts with culture. Inclusive culture emerges when leaders ensure that diversity is valued, differences are treated equitably, and individuals are respected as human beings and important to the organization. This requires intentional emphasis on understanding and valuing diversity as well as uprooting unconscious biases that impede employees’ sense of belonging. Organizations that demonstrate inclusive and equitable culture are more likely to hire and retain high-performing talent, innovate and be agile, and out-perform their competitors.


Psychological safety (i.e., the belief by employees that they are safe to speak up, take risks, and make mistakes) is also central to fostering a sense of belonging. Indeed, can any individual “belong” somewhere they feel unsafe, fear, and/or anxiety? Building psychological safety is a complex set of consistent behaviors from leaders and requires intentional, on-going focus. Some key steps leaders can take include ensuring employees know they are valued and trusted, being consistent, modeling vulnerability, communicating clear expectations and “the why,” and establishing collective accountability for success. Importantly, leaders must also ensure personal and organizational accountability for addressing biases and prioritizing cultural competency.

Spotlight on Leading Psychological Safety
A uniquely successful college and professional coach, Pete Carroll, hosts “Tell the Truth Mondays” during which the team reviews the previous day’s game and calls themselves out for things they did well (and want to repeat) and mistakes they made (and want to learn from). They have some rules to foster psychological safety: (1) leaders go first, (2) praise each other’s “wins”, and (3) mistakes are gold.


By far the most emphasized component of belonging is connection with others at work. The type of connection employees desire certainly varies. Thus, organizations most benefit from creating diverse and ongoing opportunities for personal connection, collaboration, and celebration. This is especially true in remote and hybrid workplaces that require more intentional planning and use of technology to build relationships. Also key to connection is ensuring that employees have others in the organization they can relate to in meaningful ways (e.g., experience, age, identity, culture). Importantly, employees desire to have connections not just with peers but with leaders as well. Leaders can have a strong impact on belonging by committing time to be present in employees’ workspaces and at events, asking simple questions, and actively listening to get to know individuals and their work.


While there has been great emphasis on fostering connection at work, research from Deloitte indicates that being aligned with an organization’s mission and being valued for contributing to it is even more important to employees than connection. This begins in the hiring process, identifying candidates who are committed to the mission and nurturing their alignment during on-boarding. It continues through leaders by consistently communicating purpose and visibly valuing each individual’s contributions to organizational success.

Spotlight on Inclusive Culture and Purpose
The highly respected longtime leader of Duke men’s basketball team, Mike Krzyzewski, started every season by hosting a “team” meeting that included not only the coaches and players but every single person that had a role in supporting the team’s success (e.g., trainers, marketing, security, uniform washers, custodians, etc.). Indeed, it was a packed room! The meeting was focused on each individual introducing themselves and the work they would do to support a championship. “Coach K” set a clear cultural expectation: everyone is a person and everyone matters.

Investing in belonging is essential to organizational effectiveness. Simultaneously attending to these drivers requires intentional commitment from both individuals and executive leadership teams. But leaders do not have to wait for a strategic plan to begin fostering belonging. Anyone can take the first step of intentionally engaging and valuing your employees.

If you would like to initiate a strategic approach to belonging, we recommend first working to understand the current state of your employee experience by examining measures of the belonging drivers outlined here. At PRADCO, we offer assessment and consulting services to support organizations’ strategic investment in Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging and are happy to discuss how to customize your approach to this important work.

Beckett Broh

Beckett Broh

Dr. Beckett Broh brings over 20 years of experience in executive leadership, learning and development, and consulting to PRADCO. Through her work in the public and private sectors, Beckett has earned respect for facilitating transformational change, strategic design and execution, assessment and evaluation, and talent development. Her experience includes extensive work in crisis and conflict response, developing leaders and teams, recruitment and retention, and advancing climate, culture, community relations, and diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. Her thoughtful demeanor and understanding of diverse backgrounds helps executives to front-line workers feel at ease. Whether facilitating, coaching, or advising, Beckett cultivates trust and engagement to maximize outcomes and growth. Beckett has been trained in the Pedagogy of Leadership and is also certified in Change Management. She is an active member of the Association of Change Management Professionals and has served on regional and national committees in other professional associations. Beckett earned her B.A. in Psychology and Exercise Physiology from Albion College and her M.A. and Ph.D. in Sociology from The Ohio State University.