People like to belong; it’s an inherent need in everyone. But workplaces often fail to foster a sense of belonging in their employees which can end up driving them away.
Leadership and culture coach Christine Comaford explains that when employees feel like they belong to an organization they will give it their all, but when made to feel like outsiders they will only give a half-hearted effort.
“No one is purposely making people feel they don’t belong, but they’re also not proactively making them feel they do—and that’s a huge mistake,” Comaford said.
Comaford, who is also the author of SmartTribes: How Teams Become Brilliant Together, said it is up to management to diagnose why there may not be a sense of belonging and to take steps to remedy it.
“People will never speak up and say they feel they don’t belong. It’s just too scary.”
Here are five red flags, according to SmartTribes, that warn managers they could be nurturing a culture of exile and how to end them:
1. Certain people get preferential treatment.
Preferential treatment, such as different rules for different employees i.e. full-timers vs. part-timers, is a damaging leadership behaviour and a major culprit in making people feel exiled. By following a leadership code of conduct that demands you treat all employees fairly and equally can eliminate this.
2. Cliques and inside jokes flourish. Sometimes the workplace can be just like high school with its cliques. While leaders can’t (and shouldn’t) interfere with friendships between workers, they can set an example of inclusion. Make an effort to help everyone feel they belong. Host fun workplace events and celebrations that strengthen bonds between all co-workers.
3. There are obvious signs of hierarchy. Managers may unintentionally send the message that there’s a stark division between the management team and employees. It’s the manager’s job to break down those walls and create a true team. “Belonging” means everyone is equal and marching together toward common goals.
4. Entrenched silos lead to information withholding and turf wars. Departments are often different from one another, but they needn’t be alienated. When employees have that reassuring sense that they belong to the company overall, they don’t have to close ranks and play power games. They can share and collaborate because it’s safe to do so.
5. There’s no path for personal development or advancement. True belonging is knowing that you’re not just a cog in the machine. It’s knowing that management cares about your future and wants you to live up to your potential. That’s why it’s wise to have a written development plan for every employee at every level.